Globe and Mail
2.5.17 | BRENDA COSSMAN
Brenda Cossman is a professor of law and the director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto
It’s a problem hiding in plain sight. The Globe and Mail’s Unfounded series documents what sexual assault survivors and their allies have long known: the criminal justice system fails them.
While these failures are many, this series documents the significant number of complaints that police decide classify as unfounded. Baseless. No crime happened. The data is the most comprehensive review of sexual assault unfounded rates ever conducted in Canada. The rates are staggering.
And before anyone jumps to the conclusion that this somehow confirms the prevalence of false complaints, the Globe series exposes the many problematic reasons that cases are classified as unfounded. The cases show the disturbing extent to which the rape myths, outdated stereotypes, and obsolete understandings of trauma and memory inform these unfounded conclusions.
The report provides the kind of hard hitting empirical evidence needed to convince policy makers and police leadership that there is a problem that needs to be tackled. Survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence experts could have told us this all along, but now the data is there for all to see.
It is a problem whose solution is also hiding in plain sight. Sexual assault experts know what is needed and it’s not rocket science: Training police officers. Extensive training of police officers, particularly on trauma informed approaches to investigating sexual assault. As the Unfounded series points out, these trainings, when made available, can be highly effective in transforming officers understanding of how they handle sexual assault complaints, and can reduce the number of unfounded complaints.