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Sexual assault complainants in Kelowna are being disbelieved at an alarming rate.
"It's disappointing," said Michelle Novakowski of the Kelowna Elizabeth Fry Society, "it's not surprising, however."
Novakowski is referring to some disturbing statistics from Statistics Canada about the numbers of women being turned away from the Kelowna RCMP detachment after having brought forward sexual assault claims. 40% of cases are being dismissed as "unfounded". The provincial average is 15%, with some areas much lower than that.
Novakowski points-out that victims of sexual abuse are not assigned to a special department or to constables with specialized training, but rather to a general duty constable with minimal training on the subject.
"The last time we asked about it and looked into it, it was less than a day out of their time at Depot," she said. "They're expected to get training on those specialized things later on. The problem is, they're not."
She said that without proper training, the traumatic effects can have the wrong impact on an investigator.
"Their story can seem disjointed. They may remember things a day or two or three later, or even longer. So they're often seen as not telling the truth or inconsistent. They're difficult cases to investigate," said Novakowski.
But the Elizabeth Fry Society has been working with the RCMP and there is reason for optimism in Kelowna. "Yes, I believe there is a will, said Novakowski. "The higher-up people that we're working with at the detachment have committed to working on this. They've signed-off on a local protocol, they've let us use their services to do the training in-house and I think we're on a road to make a difference.
Along with the RCMP the Elizabeth Fry Society has also been working with the local school district. Females are at the highest risk of becoming a victim of a sexual assault between the ages of 14 and 24.
There are fears that news about how the Kelowna RCMP has been handling these cases will lead to some women wanting to avoid the RCMP altogether.
"Our staff was talking about it this morning," said Novakowski, "Worrying that women wouldn't come forward and that it would get even worse."
There's a chance that the Statistics Canada numbers could mean some of the unfounded cases get another look.
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Meghan Foster said the police are taking the issue seriously. "We're doing a review of the statistics," she said. "And possibly the files themselves."