When I look at sexual assault numbers – cases reported and the proportion that lead to charges – I am always reminded of a favourite Seinfeld episode about a car rental reservation that did not produce a car. Seinfeld says to the clerk, “You know how to take a reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anyone can just take them.”
In 2010, queried about the fact Saint John had the second highest rate of sexual assaults reported to police, a Saint John police Inspector said he was “absolutely proud of that number being high.” He was probably even prouder the next year when Saint John had the highest rate of reported sexual assaults of the 100 municipalities considered across Canada.
So the police know how to take a complaint. Do they know what to do with that complaint?
Saint John has had a high rate of sexual assaults for decades. Don’t go crediting new victim support programs or improved police training or recent attitude shifts. The reported rates have been high for longer than that. Saint John has also historically had a low rate of charges being laid following those reports of sexual assaults.
From the late 1980s to 2012, New Brunswick’s rate of reported sexual assaults was higher than the Canadian average *
Now, thanks to some good journalism by the Globe and Mail, we find out that while nationally 19% of reports of sexual assault were determined to be “unfounded” (2010-2014) – dramatically more than for other types of crime, New Brunswick’s rate is 32%**. That’s partly due to Saint John which had a 51% rate of “unfounded” reports. Fredericton police have a 16% rate. Codiac RCMP, 33%. Go figure.
Unfounded means the investigating officer does not believe a crime occurred.
Might some of those officers’ beliefs be unfounded?
Are New Brunswickers who report sexual assault less credible than other Canadians?
Why would people who walk into the Saint John police station to report a sexual assault be more likely to be making up the story, given all that we know that discourages people from reporting sexual assaults?
Why do police not clear the charges using the other checkboxes: “not enough evidence” “complainant doesn’t want to proceed with charges”? Is there some bureaucratic benefit to clearing it as “unfounded”? Once they are “unfounded”, no one counts them as unsolved. The Globe states: “Inflated unfounded rates create the impression that police receive fewer complaints of sexual assault than they actually do. In turn, that gives the appearance that more complaints lead to an arrest.”
So I ask the proud police inspector, why are Saint John sexual assault victims so keen to report if little happens after they lay complaints? Or are you just proud police know how to take a complaint? Anyone can just take them.
* Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics; CANSIM table 252-0051. These statistics were publicized and denounced by the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women in the Status Report it published from early 1990s to 2011 when the Council was abolished by the provincial government. The government then pledged it would continue to publish the Status Report. It has not been published since 2014