RCMP respond to outrage over sexual assault complainant asked if she was ‘turned on’
WARNING: This story contains graphic details that may disturb some readers.
In the wake of outrage over a 2012 video that shows an officer asking a teenager if she was “turned on” during an alleged sexual assault, the RCMP say its handling of such cases is a work in progress.
The force declined to provide further “context” regarding the officer’s line of questioning, but say training remains a priority as policing standards evolve.
The lawyer for the Indigenous woman, who reported an alleged sexual assault when she was 17 years old and in the custody of the B.C. child welfare system, says his client was subject to “aggressive” and “abusive” questioning.
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APTN News first reported on Monday that it had obtained the video of the March 2012 interrogation, which the outlet described as lasting more than two hours and in which the teen said she had been sexually assaulted by an acquaintance.
In the video, a West Kelowna RCMP officer can be seen interviewing the girl after she reported a sexual assault.
“The video is totally shocking in terms of the aggressive way in which the police interviewed my client, a vulnerable teenager who is in care,” lawyer Michael Patterson said.
In the video, which was also supplied to Global News, the officer can be heard asking the teen, “Were you at all turned on during this at all, even a little bit?”
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“Physically you weren’t at all responsive to his advances, even maybe, um, subconsciously?” the officer continued. “Because you understand that when a guy tries to have sex with a female and the female is completely unwilling, it’s very difficult, right?”
In another exchange, the officer asks the girl how the alleged incident compared to other sexual experiences she has had in the past.
“OK and how does that compare to experiences you’ve had in the past sexually?” he asks.
The interrogation continued, with the officer demanding to know how hard the teen had attempted to fight back, and why she asked her alleged rapist to wear a condom.
“Because I already knew it was going to happen, and there was no escaping it,” she said.
WATCH: Questions raised about RCMP officer’s treatment of Indigenous teen girl reporting sexual assault
“What does that tell me about your level of consent and your level of denial?” the officer responded.
No charges were laid against the alleged rapist.
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Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is the minister responsible for the RCMP, stood in the House of Commons Wednesday to condemned the officer’s tactics.
“What was revealed in that video was absolutely abhorrent,” he said, adding that the attitude it demonstrated is “profoundly outdated, offensive and wrong.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett called the incident “disgusting.”
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According to Patterson, the manner in which the officer interviewed his client was “abusive” and was indicative of questioning normally reserved for hardened criminals.
“First of all she was interviewed without any support whatsoever, and you have to ask the question: is there any parent who would allow their daughter to go through such a traumatic experience with the police?” Patterson said.
“Remember she is a sexual assault complainant and regardless of whether or not you believe her, you know your training alone should tell you that some amount of sensitivity should be applied during the course of your conversation or interview with her,” he continued.
“But it was neither a conversation or an interview, it was strictly an interrogation and one that we normally see reserved for the most hardened of criminals.”
According to Patterson, his client was crying by the end of the interview.
“This does not encourage people who have been abused or assaulted to come forward and speak to police,” Patterson said.
In an email statement to Global News, the RCMP said due to restrictions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and an ongoing Criminal Code matter and civil litigation proceeding, it would not provide further “context or perspective” regarding the video.
“Respecting the limitations in place, we do understand there is a greater discussion taking place around sexual assault investigations. The RCMP has been public in the past around the evolution of police investigational standards and training,” the statement reads.
Those efforts, the statement says, have included strengthening police training and awareness, investigative accountability, victim support, and public education and communication.
And, according to the statement, new training for officers “continues to be a priority” for the RCMP.
The statement says training on myths surrounding sexual assault and consent law is currently available to employees, a course on interviewing witnesses and victims was recently updated and cultural competency training, trauma-informed investigations training and an advanced course for sexual assault investigators are under development.
“We are developing this training with subject matter experts in psychology, advocacy, and sexual assault investigations,” the statement reads.
Patterson says while he is glad the RCMP have put steps in place to ensure this type of incident does not occur again, he is still seeking an apology for his client.
“If they have changed their behaviour then they can show some remorse and they can start that by apologizing to my client,” he said.
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Dave Perry, a former Toronto police detective, who ran the force’s sexual assault squad and wrote the mandate for the sex crimes unit, said the video was “shocking,” and said the questions the officer is heard asking in the video were “highly inappropriate.”
“Shocking is probably the best word to describe how I felt when I first saw that, and I’m guessing police officers right across Canada that have seen this video feel exactly the same way,” Perry said in an interview with Global News anchor Farah Nasser.
“What that particular officer’s reasons were for conducting an interview with those kinds of highly inappropriate questions, judging the victim, trying to justify the reactions of perhaps the male attacker and so on is so far outside of our training, and so far outside of any policy I’ve ever seen in policing for how we handle survivors,” he said. “It’s just unspeakable.”
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According to Perry, the questions the officer is heard asking in the video are not in line with police training.
“These are questions that should never enter your mind, let alone come out of your mouth in an interview,” he said. “I mean, we’re trained to go in and to build a rapport with survivors with sexual assault victims to be non-judgmental, to make sure that they’re fully supported, and they have to be fully supported in every way including the line of questioning.”
He says the job of the interviewer is to help the complainant recall the events.
“Not to ask questions about things that we heard in that video that are just again shocking and highly inappropriate,” he said.
However, Perry says he hopes the video will not deter survivors from reporting incidents of sexual assault to police.
“I see this as perhaps a one-off, that this is not the way they can expect to be treated if they come to police and report, and my police colleagues across the country, [I] know that in fact they would agree with me,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how dated that video is, that’s just not the way we treat survivors, and it’s certainly not the way this woman should have been treated.
“And I would like to say it out loud for people who want to come forward and to report, they should still do so, and they should be treated the way they deserve to be treated, and listened to and supported in every fashion.”
In a statement issued Wednesday evening, B.C.’s Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy called the video “heart-wrenching” and “appalling.”
“The video is heart-wrenching and appalling. Our government firmly believes when people come forward to report sexual violence, especially young people and Indigenous peoples, they must feel safe and be supported,” Conroy said in the statement. “That’s our expectation.
“Women, especially Indigenous women and girls, face many barriers in reporting sexual violence. We must do everything possible to reduce those barriers and protect survivors of sexual violence,” she said.
— With files from Sarah MacDonald, Farah Nasser, Amanda Connolly
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