A free public forum called Unfounded? Sexual Assault Allegations will take place in Victoria in response to a media story earlier this year titled Will the Police Believe You?
Of the four speakers at the forum is Central Saanich Police Chief Les Sylven, who will speak from the Central Saanich perspective, but also from a policing standpoint in general on sexual assault allegations that have been deemed unfounded by police. More specifically, he will speak about the statistics and record coding of occurrences.
Other speakers include Karen Wickham of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, Joan Yates, VP of Student Experience at Camosun College and Victoria Lawyer, Paul Pearson.
In the original article by the Globe and Mail, which used data provided by Statistics Canada, Central Saanich had the highest percentage of cases deemed unfounded in Canada — 15 of 25 cases — over a five-year period.
“The title of the article was Will the Police Believe You and what I’m hoping to talk about is that the article was based on an interpretation that if statistically an investigation was scored as unfounded, that that meant the police did not believe the victims. And that’s not the case,” said Sylven.
Sylven said he hopes to provide some context on how police investigate allegations of sexual assault, how statistics are kept about sexual assault allegations and how important it is that people coming forward knowing that the police want to help.
“The coding category ‘statistically unfounded’ means that there’s no evidence to prove that something happened,” he said.
In Central Saanich and in many police departments, he said, they didn’t use another category, like for example, ‘founded not cleared.’
“I think from a Central Saanich standpoint and a Peninsula standpoint, it’s so important when someone has been through such an incredibly difficult experience to feel that they can bring their allegation forward and that they would be believed.”
The other part of it too, he said, is that police have to conduct a thorough investigation. He added there have been a small number of times where people who made an allegation, have returned to police, saying it didn’t happen that way.
“What’s more important I think here is that people know that we will always begin believing the person, and from then conduct our investigation and gather the evidence and follow the evidence,” he said.
The forum takes place March 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Fisher Building Room 100 at Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus.