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Review finds gaps in DRPS sexual assault reporting

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A review of sexual assault cases handled by the Durham Regional Police over the last decade has revealed gaps and misfilings in the handling of these types of incidents according to a recently released report.

In March of this year, the DRPS announced a review of all of the sexual assault cases handled by the police force since 2005, trigged by reporting in the Globe and Mail’s “Unfounded” series. The Globe investigation found that one in five sexual assault cases reported to police in Canada are dismissed as baseless or unfounded.

In Durham Region, a review of 2,189 cases found that 533 of them were labelled as unfounded, or a rate of 24 per cent of cases. This is above the Canadian average as reported by the Globe at 19.39 per cent.

The review found that over the years, the DRPS have been using the “unfounded” label as a catch-all for other types of cases that don’t accurately reflect the cases resolution, using the label to also classify cases where there was  third party complaint, but the victim provided no disclosure or corroboration, when the victim was a senior suffering from dementia and the circumstances couldn’t be fully understood, when the incident took place outside of Durham Region, or if the complainant admitted there was consent, or the allegation was proven false.

“In these situations our current clearance code classifications are inadequate to accurately reflect the resolution of the complaint,” the DRPS report reads. “It was also learned that investigators were erroneously using the unfounded clearance type in situations where it was deemed that no reasonable prospect of conviction existed and/or the offence could not be substantiated.”

Throughout the review, 164 reports would found to be improperly classified and have since been changed to “founded” in cases where the incident could not be determined because the victim did not cooperate, when there was no reasonable prospect for conviction, or if the complaint was not substantiated.

The document was recently shared with the Police Services Board where deputy chief Uday Jaswal explained that the “sexual assault review is really about public confidence and trust,” noting that perhaps the reporting done in the Globe had been “misleading”.

“Anyone who may wish to lay that type of complaint with the Durham Region Police Services has confidence that they’re going to receive effective and appropriate services,” Jaswal said.

The DRPS will also be looking to establish internal guidelines with respect to the clearance of sexual assault incidents and ensure that the members of the Sexual Assault unit have the proper training.

With the investigation of past cases now completed, the DRPS will be moving onto the second part of their review, which will include working with violence against women advocates and partners in Durham through the Violence Prevention Coordinating Council in a secondary review that will include a sampling of case files.

“This will provide the opportunity for us to leverage the expertise of these agencies that work directly with the survivors of sexual violence and their families in order to improve our internal processes, approach to complaints and police training,” the report reads.

Following that portion of the review, the DRPS will turn to focus on any recommendations received. It’s expected to wrap up by the end of 2017.