VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A freedom of information request is pulling back the curtain on sexual crimes in Vancouver, with 1,431 sex assaults reported in the city between January 2016 and January 2019.
Nearly all of those were found to be legitimate – only 50 incidents were considered “unfounded” by police.
Still, charges have been recommended in less than one quarter of the reported sexual assaults. The VPD says there are many reasons for the gap, including a lack of evidence – only 271 charges have been recommended in the almost 1,500 cases.
Stacey Forrester, co-founder of Good Night Out Vancouver says that’s not surprising.
“If you took it one step further from charges recommended to actually charges laid and all of that, it drops off even more. I think that’s reflective of a very complex system to navigate,” she says.
The force says forensic analysis takes time, so many of the reports are still under investigation and might result in charges at a later date. In other cases there’s not enough information about the suspect to meet the Crown’s threshold for charges.
Sweeping changes are being made to how sex assault statistics are gathered by police across Canada, and the new standards will classify a case as “founded” unless there is evidence that the offence did not occur.
Richmond RCMP recently warned that could result in much lower “conversion rates” from the number of founded reports to the number of charges recommended – which could make it seem like police are pursuing fewer charges.
Entertainment district has a groping problem
The largest number of reports came from the downtown Central Business District, which includes the Granville strip, but police say there could be more; an incident at a nightclub may be reported in the home district of the complainant rather than the area in which it took place.
Police say groping accounts for about 80 per cent of all the 1,431 sexual assault reports, which lines up with what Good Night Out sexual assault prevention team members already know.
“Those stories and the prevalence of that happening is really why Good Night Out was founded; from just hearing over and over again that women and other marginalized genders, while out, would consistently get groped in a crowd and turn around and not really be able to see who did it,” Forrester explains.
She says groping has become so common it has been normalized – even by victims.
“Anecdotally, at Good Night Out we hear a lot of ‘Oh yeah, I don’t even go to that bar anymore because I just get groped every time,’” she says.
“So the conversation isn’t ‘Yes, I’ve reported a sexual assault due to that place,’ it’s like ‘I’ve normalized it, I just try to avoid going to that place.’”
One of the core goals for Good Night Out is to help more venues take responsibility for the safety of their patrons.
“If it’s not their responsibility, whose is it?” Forrester asks. “There needs to be accountability from venues to take safety seriously and to take harassment and sexual assault seriously. It’s definitely been like pushing a stone uphill, but I do think that the conversation is coming around and more people are open to the idea.”