Low conviction rate leads Vancouver women to call on VPD to do better on sexual assault

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      A pair of Vancouver women say the city’s police force must work harder to track down perpetrators of sexual assault and see that they’re imprisoned for their crimes.

      “This will sound quite jaded, but I believe that at this point, sexual assault is going to continue to happen,” Catherine Francioli told the Straight. “But what we can change is holding people accountable when they do sexually assault somebody.”

      That isn’t happening today, she continued. At least not with the vast majority of sexual assaults that are reported to authorities in Vancouver.

      Francioli has launched a campaign to make people aware of the portion of sexual assaults reported to the VPD that end in a conviction. The number is 2.9 percent for the years 2005 to 2015.

      “A 2.9-percent conviction rate shows that there isn’t any consequence,” Francioli said. “And it’s known that people do repeat offend. The idea that there is very little chance that an offender will ever be convicted is really disheartening for somebody who has suffered from sexual assault.”

      Together with another Vancouver woman (who is remaining anonymous), Francioli created a website: 2point9percent.com.

      There, both women recount experiences with the issue to which they’re now working to draw attention. They were both assaulted in separate instances in June 2016.

      “Though the attacks were unrelated and perpetrated by different men, our shared experience was the disappointing actions and inadequacies of our Vancouver Police Department,” the website reads. “An experience so disheartening and demeaning that we began to understand why the conviction rate is only 2.9%.”

      The figure comes from statistics covering the years 2005 to 2015 that were released by the VPD in response to a freedom-of-information request.

      They show that during those 11 years, there were 5,231 sexual assaults reported to Vancouver police. The VPD recommended that the Crown file charges in 1,022 of those cases. There were 156 convictions, which is 2.9 percent of 5,321. (The percentage is likely just a little bit lower than the actual conviction rate for this period, as the data was released when cases initiated in 2014 and 2015 were still moving through the courts.)

      At 2point9percent.com, Francioli and her anonymous partner argue that the low conviction rate is a result of the police department’s failure to “prioritize” investigations of sexual assault.

      It notes that the women have filed formal complaints about the VPD, and it describes alleged shortcomings in how the force has dealt with those complaints.

      In a telephone interview, VPD Srgt. Jason Robillard, a spokesperson for the force, repeatedly emphasized that the department takes every report of sexual assault seriously and thoroughly investigates each case.

      “They [special investigators] are aware of the impact that these types of investigation, the trauma that they have on anyone who was sexually assaulted,” he told the Straight. “Tthey aim to be sensitive, professional, and respectful while they take an empathetic approach to all aspects of their work.”

      Robillard also suggested that the 2.9-percent figure is not a fair measure of the VPD’s handling of sexual assaults. He said that’s because all the VPD can do is recommend charges; from there, it’s up to B.C. Crown counsel prosecutors to secure convictions.

      “What I can say is, out of 465 incidents reported to us [in 2016, the latest year for which figures are available] involving sexual assault, in 23.7 percent of all those incidents, we recommended charges,” Robillard said.

      In addition to recounting Francioli’s story, 2point9percent.com asks that any Vancouver resident who has suffered a similar experience use the website to file a complaint of their own with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC).

      “You can copy and paste our original complaint, and then you go to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner’s website, which we link from our website, and you just have to enter in your name, address if you choose to, and you can just copy and paste and submit it,” Francioli said. “And it goes right to the OPCC.”

      On April 26, the Vancouver police board is scheduled to review the two women’s complaints. Ahead of that meeting, Francioli said she’s hoping that more women will file complaints and that that will force the police board to take their complaints seriously.

      “When the OPCC gets all these emails with the exact same complaint, we’re hoping that the city is going to take a bit more note of this,” she said. “We’re hoping this will force their hand, as a complaint commission, to actually address the issue.”