A sexual assault report very rarely ever results in a conviction in Vancouver, according to statistics obtained from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
Data from a 10-year period from 2005 to 2015 shows that while over 5,200 sexual assaults were reported across the city, only one in five resulted in charges, and only 2.9 per cent ended up with convictions.
The numbers, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show how difficult it is to prosecute such sensitive crimes.
“Sexual assaults are very complex investigations. All the cases we get, we try to bring them all to charge… but not all result in convictions,” said VPD chief Adam Palmer.
Women Against Violence Against Women report that only eight per cent of those who experience sexual assault in Canada ever report it to the police. Statistics Canada estimated that number to be as low as five per cent in 2014.
“It is a very under-reported crime,” added Palmer. “We know that there is more going on in society that don’t get reported to police, so we ask people to report them.”
According to Statistics Canada, the most common reasons why victims don’t file police reports are because they felt it wasn’t “important enough”, it was a “personal matter”, and that the victim didn’t want to get involved with the police.
The agency said 22 out of every 1,000 people were victims of sexual assault in 2014 (2.2 per cent). In Aboriginal women, that rate jumped to 11.5 per cent.
Angela MacDougall, the executive director at Battered Women’s Support Services, says the criminal justice system needs to start trusting victims more in order for the rate of conviction to increase.
“Through almost 30 years of doing this work, I’ve met thousands of women who have made reports to the police who haven’t had charges approved,” said MacDougall. “And if charges were approved, there has been dissatisfaction with the criminal system that there wasn’t a conviction.”
While the VPD says the reporting rate is increasing, MacDougall cites an understanding by women in the general population that most women will not get a conviction if they report sexual violence.
“For most survivors of sexual violence, they will not see their day in court,” she added.
Despite that, Palmer says the VPD encourages people to report all sexual assaults, no matter what the level is.
“We want to hear about every single one of them.”
This past spring, Vancouver saw a spike in sexual crimes across the area, bringing a lot of media attention to the issue. Palmer says police identified about five serial sexual predators that were all operating at the same time and were able to solve the cases and bring a number of charges to bear.
In May, police laid charges against six people involved in 10 sexual assaults across Metro Vancouver. VPD credited “the courage of these women to come forward and tell their story” to make the charges possible.
–With files from Jill Bennett