Numbers released from the Edmonton Police Service in a Freedom of Information request show just 26.6 per cent of sexual assaults reported to police between 2007 and 2016 resulted in charges being laid.
Since 2007, there have been 7,449 sexual assaults reported and 1,982 resulted in charges.
“There’s lots of big challenges with sexual assault investigations in general,” EPS Staff Sgt. Devin Laforce, with the Sexual Assault Section, said. “It’s a very private offence, a private crime. There’s different thresholds or burdens of proof as you go through the criminal justice system.”
The type of sexual assault can make it harder to pursue charges as well. For instance, there is likely less evidence in a case where someone is groped or assaulted over their clothes.
“There’s not often a lot of witnesses and, depending on the nature of the contact – or how prolonged and serious or as you increase that range of violence in an incident – it depends on how much evidence you have,” Laforce explained.
Other barriers include stigma, embarrassment or complainants not wanting the suspect to get in trouble, Laforce said.
“About 10 per cent of victims of sexual assault actually report the crime to police, and that’s across the country.”
“That’s concerning to me,” he said. “As a police agency… in order for us to be responsive to public safety and community needs, we need to know what offences are happening and where they’re happening.”
That is a point the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton is concerned with.
“Rather than focusing perhaps on the number of cases where the evidence wasn’t sufficient enough to press charges, we should focus on the number of sexual assaults that are being committed and not reported,” Mary Jane James, SACE executive director, said.
“It takes so much courage to come forward at all, which is why the reporting number is so low.”
James said, for every 1,000 sexual assaults, only three ever result in a conviction.
“The police have to do their due diligence each and every time because dragging a victim through the court process when the evidence is not complete to begin with can just further victimize that survivor,” she explained.
However, the disproportionate number of crimes reported to police compared to the number of charges doesn’t just apply to sexual assaults.
“We kind of see that across all crime types,” Laforce explained. “Just because someone reports a crime to police doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily going to be a charge. If you start looking at some of those clearance rates from different crime types, I don’t know that sexual assault is actually that much less than any other crime type or any other serious crime.”
Cases of aggravated sexual assault, assault with a weapon and sexual assault causing bodily harm result in a higher proportion of charges being laid. Between 2007 and 2016, there were 209 sexual assaults with a weapon reported. More than half of those – 125 cases – resulted in charges being laid.
“Those charges increase with the severity of violence that a victim or complainant suffers going through that incident,” Laforce said.
“As you increase that severity, a couple things happen. One – you have a lot more evidence typically, especially if there’s a weapon or force… and the second thing, is you have a public safety risk typically.”
Overall, the number of reported sexual assaults has gone up in Alberta’s capital, but that could be due to a number of things, including a growing population and more victims coming forward to report crimes.
In 2015, 17 per cent of the EPS Sexual Assault Section’s workload was historical sexual assault incidents. This means that there was at least one year since the crime occurred from when it was reported to police.
“The rates are increasing a little bit,” Laforce said.
So far in 2016, Laforce’s unit – which investigates aggravated sexual assaults, sexual assaults with a weapon, and sexual assaults causing bodily harm – has seen a 12 per cent increase in reported crimes.
By the numbers:
- Between 2007 and 2016, there were 7,449 sexual assaults reported in Edmonton;
- Of those, 739 were determined to be “unfounded;”
- Of the reported cases, 1,982 resulted in charges being laid (27%);
- Out of 7,449 reports, in 235 cases, the complainant declined to lay charges;
- Of the reported cases, 2,650 cases have not been cleared and investigations are continuing;
- Between 2007 and 2016, there were 209 sexual assaults with a weapon reported;
- Of those, 125 resulted in charges being laid;
- Laforce’s unit in the Sexual Assault Section has 10 full-time detectives;
- In 2015, 17% of the SAS workload was historical sexual assault incidents.
More to come…