February 9, 2017
FREDERICTON (GNB) – In light of new information on law enforcement’s handling of reports of sexual violence, the New Brunswick Women’s Council is urging the Government of New Brunswick to take immediate action to improve institutional responses to sexual violence in the province.
“New Brunswick’s law enforcement is labeling reports of sexual violence as ‘unfounded’ at disproportionately high rates,” said council co-chair Jennifer Richard. “This is extremely alarming, as sexual violence is already underreported.”
When law enforcement classify a report as “unfounded,” it means that no crime was attempted or occurred.
A 20-month investigation by the Globe and Mail has determined that 32 per cent of all sexual assaults reported in New Brunswick are classified as unfounded by law enforcement. It is the highest rate in the country and nearly double the national rate of 19 per cent. Of the 12 New Brunswick law enforcement forces that reported their rates of classifying reports as unfounded over a five year period, 10 had rates higher than the national average. Saint John’s five year average is 50 per cent.
The council has advised government that an immediate response to these rates is required and must go beyond reviewing case classification processes.
“Multiple institutions – including but not limited to law enforcement – create barriers that prevent or discourage survivors of sexual violence from coming forward,” said council co-chair Jody Dallaire. “Work on this issue must involve law enforcement, as well as justice and public safety actors, and our educational and healthcare systems.”
The council has recommended that government’s response includes developing a plan with institutional and community-based stakeholders to address challenges survivors of sexual violence face not only when reporting, but when interacting with the justice system.
“The systems in place cannot, in their current state, meet the unique needs of survivors of sexual assault,” said the council’s executive director, Beth Lyons. “New Brunswick needs a comprehensive, coordinated plan to do better for survivors of sexual violence.”
The council advises that the plan should include concrete measures to be taken, a timeline for implementation, and an accountability framework. Measures the council hopes to see include:
- A comprehensive review of policing procedures relating to reports of sexual violence
- Trauma-informed training for those who work with survivors through law enforcement or the justice system
- Implementation of a case review process that involves community-based organizations with specialized knowledge and direct-service experience in sexual violence
- Access to free legal advice for survivors, including those who have not reported to law enforcement
- A plan to resource and support all of the above
Media contact: Beth Lyons, Executive Director, New Brunswick Women’s Council
[email protected] Tel. 506-462-5142