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High number of dismissed sexual assault cases in Kelowna sparks protest

Protesters gathered outside the Kelowna RCMP detachment to voice concern about the high number of sexual assault cases officers dismissed as unfounded in 2018. Jules Knox reports.

Protesters were outside the Kelowna RCMP detachment on Saturday to voice concern about the high number of sexual assault cases dismissed in the Okanagan.

Aden Withers was one of the key voices at the event. She was a teenager when she told RCMP she had been sexually assaulted, however, a police officer interrogated her about the incident in a shocking video that was released earlier this year.

“Were you at all turned on during this at all, even a little bit?” the officer can be heard asking the Indigenous youth.

READ MORE: Penticton RCMP respond to Statistics Canada report, say they’re aware of ‘unfounded’ incidents

“I mean, he’s taking your clothes off, how much of a fight did you put up?” the officer continued.

Withers said she’s now sharing her story to help other sexual assault survivors.

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“Coming forward gives other people the courage. It gives a face. Rather than just an anonymous girl, it gives a face to the statistic,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘It’s appalling’: Women’s advocates outraged Kelowna RCMP dismissed nearly 40% of sex assault complaints last year

Several other people also shared their own stories outside Kelowna’s detachment on Saturday. They’re protesting what they call the RCMP’s failure to follow through on sexual assault investigations.

According to Statistics Canada, 35 of the 88 sexual assault cases that were reported to Kelowna RCMP last year were dismissed as unfounded, which is nearly 40 per cent.

“My goal today is for the RCMP to hear us and to be investigated by a civilian source because we have no confidence in them investigating themselves,” Withers said.

Protester Maria Lammerding called the police investigations into sexual assaults fundamentally flawed.

“As we know from the interrogation that happened in Aden’s case, the line of questioning was so abhorrent.”

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“It was despicable and disgusting,” she said.

Okanagan RCMP are dismissing a high number of sexual assault cases as unfounded
Okanagan RCMP are dismissing a high number of sexual assault cases as unfounded

“And now that we have a report that says nearly 40 per cent of the cases are dismissed, it shows that this is still happening, that there’s something wrong with the way they’re investigating,” Lammerding added.

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RCMP have repeatedly refused an on-camera interview with Global News.

In an email, Cpl. Meghan Foster wrote that the RCMP’s sexual assault review team at national headquarters is reviewing Kelowna’s unfounded files for 2018 and 2019.

“As of right now we don’t have anything to say until the review of the information is complete, and we have an understanding behind the statistic. I cannot provide a timeline for when the review will be done,” she said.

READ MORE: Kelowna mayor backtracking on unconditional support for RCMP sex assault investigations

Protesters criticized the RCMP for failing to address their concerns.

“They should be out here. They should be speaking to this. The fact that they’re saying, ‘Oh, it’s being investigated.’ I mean, it’s such a brush off,” Lammerding said.

Alberta-wide text/chat line now available for sexual assault victims
Alberta-wide text/chat line now available for sexual assault victims

Withers said she expects her case against RCMP to go to mediation in December.

“I think they needed to handle it with more sensitivity. There needed to be female officers there. There needed to be advocates there, and there just wasn’t,” Withers said.

She said it was difficult watching the tape of her interrogation and remembering how alone and afraid she felt at the time.

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“I think the hardest part of it being released for me has been hearing other people’s stories and realizing that this isn’t just a ‘me’ problem, this is a community problem,” Withers said.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Click here  to find the community supports in your area.