Why some sexual assault allegations don’t result in conviction
The vast majority of sexual assaults that have been substantiated by police do not result in a criminal conviction or even make it to court, Statistics Canada said Thursday.
New research from the agency surveyed the number of sexual assault allegations that police ruled as founded between 2009 and 2014, noting that this figure is considerably lower than the number of such offences that likely took place.
Of those, StatCan said only 12 per cent, or about one in 10, resulted in a criminal conviction. Most cases never had a chance to attain one, as the research found only 49 per cent of substantiated sexual assault complaints made it to court in the first place.
StatCan contrasted these rates with similar figures for physical assaults, which are nearly twice as likely to both make it through the justice system and secure a conviction. About 75 per cent of physical assaults proceed to court after charges are laid, and 23 per cent of substantiated claims result in conviction, StatCan said.
The research excluded data from Quebec and Prince Edward Island due to an inability to adequately compare data with other provinces.
The StatCan survey acknowledged that the data it surveyed is merely scratching the surface of a complex issue, saying it hopes the report will lay the groundwork for future research.
“While conviction rates … and severity of sentencing outcomes are often used as measures of criminal justice, neither take into account the potentially large volume of cases that never made it to court,” the report reads. “The ‘fall-out’ of cases before court can provide vital context for how sexual assaults are handled in the criminal justice system.”
StatCan announced in the report that the focus would shift to tracking sex assault claims that police have classified as “unfounded,” saying a report on the issue will be released next July.
The most recent data reaffirmed many long-standing facts about sexual assault cases. StatCan said 87 per cent of sexual assault victims were women and girls, and the majority of alleged perpetrators were known to them in some capacity.
StatCan found that cases in which the victim and the alleged assailant were known to each other were less likely to go to court, with only 47 per cent of such cases resulting in charges compared to 64 per cent in which the accused was a stranger.
That number fell even further if an accused was a member of the victim’s family, but StatCan said those cases were likely to result in stiffer penalties if the person was convicted.
Age also played a role in the success of a sexual assault prosecution, it said.
“It may be suggested that middle-aged to older women sexually assaulted by young men were most likely to see their assailant go to court and be convicted, whereas younger female and male victims of sexual assault (including children) who were victimized by middle-aged to older men many years older than them were less likely to see the same course of justice,” the report reads.
The research also found that the majority of cases that originally come before the court as a sex assault charge don’t wind up being handled that way. The data showed 60 per cent of sex assault charges brought before the court are prosecuted as a different type of offence.
Amanda Dale of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic said the finding suggests lawyers are working around a system that they recognize is stacked against victims of sexual assault.
“The Crowns in these cases are seeing that the justice system is still not ready to receive these crimes on an equal basis with other crimes,” she said. “If you take it from sexual assault to plain assault, you might have a better outcome because all of the prejudices that surround sexual assault might suddenly no longer be your barrier.”
Dale said the findings are yet another indicator that the system for prosecuting sexual assault is in need of change.
While she acknowledges that the national conversation around the issue has shifted and progress is being made, she said the latest numbers continue to paint a disheartening picture for sexual assault survivors.
“It doesn’t surprise me, but it continues to shock me that we have a crime that so closely approaches impunity that’s so widely experienced.”
In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia says many of these cases don’t result in a conviction or make it to court at all because waiting to report a sexual assault makes proving it happened much more difficult.
“Many complainants wait weeks, months or years to go to police, and unless they’ve saved the blue dress with the semen on it, for example, the delay raises a doubt,” she says.
“That doubt is compounded by complainants who have other litigation pending — such as accusing the husband of assault during a child custody battle — or a history of jealousy with their partner, can raise issues of deception.”
Gadhia, principal of R. Roots Gadhia Criminal Defence Law, says as defence counsel she has seen how a complainant can be undermined, even in cases where the allegations may be true, when they lie or exaggerate about unrelated matters.
“If they lie to express their hurt or anger, that can raise doubts about the substantive allegations,” she says.Back to News