Breaking Down the Dismal Sexual Assault Statistics | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia

Ja Coast recently reported on a presentation Sunny Marriner gave to the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners. Marriner is an expert on sexual violence and the justice system, and has become an advocate for something known as VACR – the Violence Against Women Defense Case Review. VACR is a way of analyzing how sexual assaults are handled in the justice system. Here’s our story on the presentation, outlining how the board unanimously decided to let Marriner review Halifax Regional Police records to find out if there are any systemic issues in the way sexual assault complaints are addressed.

Along with this story, we have included a graphic from Marriner’s presentation which shows that only a quarter of one percent of all sexual assaults in Canada result in criminal convictions. Here is that graph.

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The original graphic on sexual assault case attrition from Sunny Marriner’s presentation to the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners.

We got comments that people didn’t understand exactly how the numbers worked, so we thought it would be good to explain. We went back to the video presentation to find out how Marriner said it.

Click to enlarge Spotlight on the first and most important point of attrition, when 95 out of 100 sexual assaults go unreported to the police.  - SCREENSHOT

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Spotlight on the first and most important point of attrition, when 95 out of 100 sexual assaults go unreported to the police.

At the top of the graph, highlighted in the above version, is also the largest attrition point in terms of sexual assault cases to trial. The very first number is 100, as in 100% of all sexual assaults, and the second line shows that the overwhelming majority of cases – 95 out of 100 cases – are never reported to authorities.

“Only five percent of all sexual assaults that occur in Canada,” says Marriner, “are reported to the police. The chart shows the 95 unreported cases moving to the left side (labeled “Everyone”) of the image, while the five reported cases are on the “Criminal Justice System” side. But that doesn’t mean these five will make it to court.

Reporting is “the gateway to the criminal justice system,” says Marriner. “A person who has been sexually abused goes through the police level, knocks on the door of the criminal justice system. And what happens there will determine whether or not they enter the cycle of the rest of the arms of the criminal justice system that you see here.

“So this is a critical time, because it’s basically the time when a decision is made about access to the criminal justice system for Canadian citizens and victims of crime. And that’s why we’re looking at the police department.”

Click to enlarge Highlighted here is the second point of attrition, the center of Marriner's work, when 80 percent of sexual assault reports to police go no further.  - SCREENSHOT

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Highlighted here is the second point of attrition, the center of Marriner’s work, when 80 percent of sexual assault reports to police go no further.

Next, we turn our attention to the five cases reported to the police, highlighted above. The graph shows that of those five cases that knock on the door of the justice system, only one goes further into the system. The other four cases start from the left side of the graph.

“Nationally, usually only one in five reports will be charged,” Marriner said. “So somewhere between about 15 and 20 percent of the average charge rate across the country. And those other four reported cases aren’t moving forward.”

What derails these four cases is the big question.

According to a major Globe and Mail investigation in 2017, one of the cases is qualified as “unfounded”. It’s a police term, “a category of clearance for sexual assault investigations in which police have determined that no crime was committed or attempted,” Marriner said. “This has been the catch-all category for cases where credibility is seen as an issue or perhaps the survivor or person reporting is not believed about their experience of sexual violence.”

But for the other three cases, Marriner says there’s a “real lack of evidence” about “what’s going on at that time that’s creating this massive attrition rate at this beginning of the criminal justice system.” Getting evidence and understanding what is going on is where VACR comes in.

“So that’s the goal of this work,” says Marriner. “That’s the goal of my work. And that’s the problem we seek to solve and better understand.”

Click to enlarge When charges are laid — which, remember, only happens one percent of the time — half of those cases don't go to trial.  - SCREENSHOT

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When charges are laid — which, remember, only happens one percent of the time — half of those cases don’t go to trial.

Given the focus on pre-charge attrition, it’s understandable that Marriner’s presentation didn’t delve into the one out of 100 sexual assault case that leads to criminal charges. His spotlight in the graphic above shows that half the time the prosecution doesn’t make it to court.

Click to enlarge Finally, an accusation only leads to a conviction in 50% of cases, so only one out of 400 sexual assaults results in a guilty verdict.  - SCREENSHOT

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Finally, an accusation only leads to a conviction in 50% of cases, so only one out of 400 sexual assaults results in a guilty verdict.

And in the very rare cases where an abuser does show up in court to face justice, as the last lines of Marriner’s graph above show, they have the same chance of being convicted as of being acquitted. For example, only 0.25% of sexual assaults result in a conviction, or only one in 400 cases results in the conviction of an aggressor by a judge.

With such an appallingly low success rate, it’s no wonder that 95% of people who have been sexually assaulted do not report it to the police. Although if Marriner’s work with VACR can lead to more lawsuits, perhaps more assault survivors will see value in knocking on the front door of the justice system.