Police have yet to lay charges in connection with an alleged sexual assault last week at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax but say their investigation into the incident remains open and ongoing.
“It’s quite an extensive process,”said Const. Dianne Penfound, Halifax Regional Police.
“It’s complicated and it’s sensitive so we want to make sure that everything is going ahead appropriately.”
It’s alleged a 24-year-old woman was approached by a man outside Vinnie’s Pub who pulled her into a wooded area off Seton Road and sexually assaulted her.
The incident happened around 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 27.
Investigators are still working to process evidence they found at the scene, something that police say takes time. Officers are also reviewing video surveillance in the area and speaking with potential witnesses.
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Officials say sexual assault investigations are very complex.
Halifax police say they have a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to sexualized violence and work closely with victims to ensure they’re willing to proceed with a police investigation, which includes giving a statement about the incident.
“We have spoken to the victim and continue to do so to make sure she’s comfortable with the process because that’s very important with respect to sexual assaults,” said Penfound.
A 19-year-old man was identified as a suspect and arrested the same day the assault was reported at the Westwood Residence on campus.
Police say the man was staying at the building but is not a student at the university.
After questioning the man for several hours, he was released without charges. Despite no charges being laid yet, police say they are not looking for any other suspects in connection with the assault investigation.
“The investigation is ongoing and charges are still a possibility,” said Penfound.
Neither Mount Saint Vincent University or Halifax Regional Police will say if the victim in the alleged sexual assault is a student at the school.
However, a spokesperson for the Mount says the university has made a request under the Protection of Property Act to restrict the suspect from coming on campus.
The school says they continue to remind students, faculty and staff who are concerned about walking on campus that they can contact Mount Security and an officer will accompany them.
This week, senior administration from the Mount also met with the Students’ Union executive and decided to conduct a joint walk-about on campus to review the campus environment from a safety perspective in the near future.
A review of related policy, education and training will also be led by the University’s recently formed sexual violence prevention advisory committee.
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Carmella Farahbakhsh, the administrator/ volunteer coordinator and educator at South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre in Halifax says sexualized violence is incredibly prevalent in our society but also extremely under reported.
“The idea of sexualized violence, the reality of sexualized violence is understood to be just a reality or normal for folks, specifically folks who are women, feminent identified or trans and two-spirit to experience ” she told Global News.
Recent numbers made available by Statistics Canada show that 1 in 10 (12 per cent) sexual assaults reported by police between 2009 and 2014 led to a criminal conviction and only 7 per cent resulted in a custody sentence.
The report also found that the more time that passed between the sexual assault and when it was reported to police, the less likely the charge was to proceed to court or result in a conviction. While 53 per cent of sexual assaults reported to police on the same day they took place proceeded from police charge to court, only one in five or 19 per cent that were reported over one year after the crime took place went to court.
You can read the full report from Statistics Canada by clicking here.
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Farahbakhsh says survivor-victims often face a long process of re-telling their story while an investigation unfolds.
“Having to be reminded constantly of the experience of violence over a lengthy period of time can be incredibly emotionally draining and can lead to folks not feeling like they can access work in the same way that there were previously,” she said.
“A lot of folks that experience sexualized violence will drop out of school or take a shorter course load just because the emotional weight and heaviness is very, very severe.”
Halifax Regional Police continue to ask anyone who may have information about the alleged sexual assault at Mount Saint Vincent University to come forward and speak with investigators.
Anonymous tips can also be made through Crime Stoppers.