Human Rights Watch details allegations of sexual assault by Mounties; RCMP says no complaints filed
A New York–based human-rights organization has issued a detailed report claiming that the Mounties have failed to protect aboriginal women and girls from violence in northern B.C.
The 89-page document by Human Rights Watch also cites claims of RCMP officers sexually assaulting women.
The RCMP has responded that it takes the report "very seriously".
"In a written response to a series of questions posed by Human Rights Watch in fall 2012, the RCMP emphasized the seriousness of allegations of police misconduct and that these allegations must be brought forward for proper investigation," the Mounties said in a statement. "We also explained that complaints could be made to the RCMP directly, to the Commission of Public Complaints against the RCMP or to other independent investigative bodies without fear of retaliation. Unfortunately, five months later and none of these allegations have been brought forward for investigation. It is impossible to deal with such public and serious complaints when we have no method to determine who the victims or the accused are."
Here is what Human Rights Watch stated specifically in connection with officers allegedly perpetrating sexual assaults.
In 5 of the 10 towns Human Rights Watch visited in the north, we heard allegations of rape or sexual assault by police officers. Human Rights Watch was struck by the level of fear on the part of women we met to talk about sexual abuse inflicted by police officers. Even though Human Rights Watch conducted outreach to women and girls through trusted service providers with long histories of working in these communities, on several occasions, women who initially expressed interest in talking with Human Rights Watch about their experiences of police sexual abuse later declined to speak or did not appear for interviews. Fear of retaliation, a frequent reason why women and girls do not report police abuse in general, is compounded by fear of stigma and feelings of shame in cases of sexual abuse. As a consequence, it was very difficult to gather first-hand testimony to support the allegations we heard.
However, in one town, Human Rights Watch met Gabriella P., a homeless woman, who reported that in July 2012 she had been taken to a remote location outside of the town and raped by four police officers whose names she knew but would not provide. “I feel so dirty,” Gabriella said through tears, the first time she spoke with Human Rights Watch. “They threatened that if I told anybody they would take me out to the mountains and kill me and make it look like an accident.”
Gabriella said that she had been raped by police in similar circumstances on previous occasions. Human Rights Watch was able to find and photograph the remote location, which is inaccessible by public transportation, that Gabriella described. In a brief second meeting with her almost a week later, Gabriella reviewed the photographs and reacted with visible fear and distress. Pointing to the photographs, she further explained that the officers had made her stand with her hands against the side of a building while she was being raped. Human Rights Watch is not publishing the photos or further details in order to protect her identity.
In addition, in the second meeting, Gabriella said that she had been raped by police again two days earlier in a different location outside of town and that the officers had taken her underwear after she was assaulted. Human Rights Watch was unable to ask for further details about this rape because Gabriella abruptly ended the conversation out of fear of being seen talking to the Human Rights Watch researcher.
A community worker in the town said that she keeps packages of underwear for women living on the streets because other women have reported to her that they have been sexually assaulted by police and had their underwear confiscated. These allegations are deeply disturbing and demand action. Respecting Gabriella’s wishes that an individual complaint to authorities not be made on her behalf, Human Rights Watch coordinated with a community worker to ensure that Gabriella had housing through friends and family that would limit her risk of further abuse. However, the lack of faith that victims have in the safety and effectiveness of current complaint processes, coupled with the exclusion of rape and sexual assault from the mandate of the new BC Independent Investigations Office, leaves victims of egregious abuse without a place to turn. As it stands, it also limits the options that human rights groups have to take these matters to the authorities, including in situations that raise concerns about ongoing abuse. Due to victims’ fears of retaliation, Human Rights Watch did not alert authorities to the details of these allegations. Human Right Watch strongly urges an independent civilian-led investigation of these allegations with the aim of achieving criminal accountability for the alleged crimes. Human Rights Watch would eagerly cooperate with such an investigation to the extent we are able to without compromising the safety and privacy of victims.
Another allegation of police rape and sexual assault involving multiple officers is in the public record. A civil suit filed in August 2012 alleges that in the city of Prince George in August 2010, members of the RCMP took a woman they had arrested to a basement where they physical and sexually abused her. The civil complaint alleges that in the basement of a private house, the woman was:
i) Forcibly confined in the basement against her will;
ii) Repeatedly struck, punched, and kicked while verbally denigrated and threatened with the death and disappearance from her family;
iii) Forcibly stripped to a state of nakedness, sexually assaulted and sodomised.
After the officers allegedly drugged her and doused her with alcohol, the complaint states that the woman was taken to the Prince George RCMP detachment where she was “forcibly strip searched without purpose, legal justification and contrary to the procedural standards, if any, in force at the time of the search.
The civil suit follows an RCMP investigation and subsequent inquiry by the Vancouver Police which found the woman’s report of abuse in the basement to be unfounded.
The search, however, was deemed to be in breach of RCMP protocol.
Human Rights Watch was also told of indigenous women and girls being sexually abused in city cells after passing out due to intoxication. In 2007, when Hannah J. was 25, police put her in city cells when she was intoxicated. She woke up to find herself naked from the waist down:
I remember [two male officers] putting me in the cells and I passed out. I woke up with my pants and panties off. I asked the lady guard if I could look at the cameras. She asked why. She didn’t let me look at the tape…. My pants were in the cell beside me. My panties weren’t there… I felt funny, wet down there [pointing to between her legs]. I just went home and cried... Why did this happen to me? Why didn’t they just leave me on the street? Hannah said that she felt too ashamed do file a complaint or even seek medical attention.
Similar circumstances were described by secondary sources, involving victims whom Human Rights Watch was unable to interview. We present that information for context. We received a secondary report from a woman whose friend told her that she had awoken in police holding cells in 2012 to find herself being sexually assaulted by a police officer.
A representative of an advocacy organization recounted a similar incident in another town reported by a young woman who had been between 13 and 15 years old when it happened to her between 2006 and 2008. The young woman said that it had happened when she had been brought to the cells while she was intoxicated. She described attempting to pull down her shirt to cover herself after regaining consciousness to find that she had nothing on her bottom half and was being watched by a male guard.