Ottawa Police to join panel to help improve response to sexual assaults, domestic violence
Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa
Published Wednesday, May 31, 2017 5:37PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 31, 2017 7:22PM EDT
Cases of sexual assault and domestic violence that Ottawa Police had deemed "unfounded" will now get a closer look.
Police will be working with a panel of women advocates to figure out whether a case should have been closed or whether a crime did take place. This panelwill act as sort of the "expert eyes" in what's described as a gold standard in investigating sexual assaults.
Groups who work with these victims say if it's done right, this model could make women safer even saves lives.
University of Ottawa student Melodie Morin went public in the fall of 2015 with her complaint about a sexual assault after she says she got nowhere with Ottawa Police.
“He (The police investigator) agreed there were marks on my body but to him, it was just rough sex,” Morin said in an interview with CTV in November of 2015.
Her attacker was eventually charged but fled the country before he could be arrested. Stories like hers are not uncommon, according to Blair Crew, a part time professor at the University of Ottawa and a researcher who looked into the subject of unfounded sexual assault cases and Ottawa Police, after his work as a lawyer advocating on behalf of victims.
“There's all kinds of reasons why women may have been disbelieved,” Crew says.
In fact, research he conducted in 2007 found that one-third of all sexual assault cases reported to Ottawa Police were deemed “unfounded” and that one in six resulted in charges.
And a recent report by the Globe and Mail shows 1 in 5 sex assault cases across Canada is deemed "baseless."
“It is the one crime reported most frequently where charges aren't laid,” Crew added.
Ottawa Police have improved their practices and say their rate of “unfounded” sexual assault cases is now at 8%. But there is more work to do. By fall of this year, police will team up with front line workers, legal experts and women's advocates to take a second look at how police approach sexual assault and domestic violence.
“It's not about a case by case review,” Inspector Jamie Dunlop with the Ottawa Police says, “It's more about a process review, how police go through the process, how we interview, how we get information from somebody who's been through such a traumatic experience. That's what we're hoping to get some advice on.”
This review, known as the Philadelphia case review model, is considered the gold standard and is intended to figure out the missteps in the investigative process and improve things going forward. For many victims, though, they can't help but wonder whether this will finally give them their day in court.
But those working with police on this issue say that isn't the intention.
Leighann Burns is the Executive Director of Harmony House, helping women fleeing domestic violence.
“We're hoping, though, as a result of this, future responses will be exactly as we hoped they will be,” Burns says, “so women will get good responses in the future regardless of when they call and what they call about. We should no longer be hearing from women that they called police and didn't get help.”
It's not clear whether this review will lead to more charges being laid.
But it's hoped that it could mean more offenders are jailed and more victims protected from harm.