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Reported sex assaults increase locally, Chief says survivors still need more support

Last Updated Dec 6, 2017 at 6:04 pm EDT

570 NEWS - Erin Anderson

Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says our community needs to work together to help curb the amount of sexual assaults, and to reduce any stigma so more of these crimes are reported locally.

It comes as new numbers from Statistics Canada were outlined at a Police Services Board Meeting on Wednesday — the same day it was announced another local officer has been suspended due to sexual assault allegations.

Stats Canada looked at the number of reported sexual assaults across our country, and the results show our local rate is higher than the provincial average. In 2016, there were 51 sexual offences reported per 100,000 population in Waterloo Region, and only 1 in 10 reported assaults result in criminal conviction nationally.

Chief Larkin spoke with 570 NEWS after Wednesday’s meeting, and says the increase in locally reported sexual assaults isn’t necessarily a bad sign.

“As I say every year when these stats are released, the higher number of reported sexual assaults is silver, it’s gold. It’s a message that these offences are occurring in our community, and people feel comfortable to come forward and report them. ”

Larkin says he takes confidence in seeing these numbers, and the special report is ‘very timely’ as we talk about sexual assaults in our community.

“I’m very excited with the work that has been happening with our local Sexual Assault Task Force. As we move into 2018, we’re hoping to work with the Board to announce a new approach. Our service has always been proud to support third-party reporting, we think it’s crucial and key, but that being said — we want to really augment another level of oversight, input, accountability, but also stay really focused on trauma-based interviewing too.”

Larkin says he thinks the report sends a strong message that we all need to do more.

“We need to do more in our society, not just with police, but also just in our community. We need support, victim advocacy, and survivor support. Overall, there is still work to do in our judicial system — to ensure victims of sexual assault receive the support that they require.”

Meantime, Police Chiefs from across Canada are recommending that Stats Canada resume collecting unfounded sexual assault data, and Larkin says he supports it.

“There’s lots of good work happening, and we think it’s an important piece to bring back in. It sends a strong message of support, and we’re excited to see this move forward.”

Larkin adds that locally, he believes we need greater preventative approaches, and a real strategic plan to change the landscape.

“We average in the last five years just under 1,000 sexual assault reports a year, and we average just over 10,000 family violence calls for service — so there is work to be done. I think there’s a number of things we’re doing very well, and we should celebrate those successes, but we should not be complacent, and we still need to push the agenda to move that forward.”

Larkin also addressed the recent series of sexual assault allegations against members of the Waterloo Regional Police Service.

“Our police service is not immune to this issue — we have a number of members who are currently under SIU investigation and suspended due to sexual assault allegations. It’s something that’s concerning to me as the Chief — and some of the dialogue we’re having internally is how do we ensure the values of our police service, and public service, are aligned with our members.”

Larkin notes that Regional Police take these matters very seriously.

“We disclosed the suspension, and the SIU investigation, as we think it’s all part of accountability and transparency within our community. Our officers are not perfect, they’re human beings, and we have some of the same challenges in our organization that are in our community.”

That being said, Larkin said these situations are not acceptable.

“If the allegations are proven and substantiated, it will not be tolerated. At the same time though, we have to let the SIU process run its course, and then we’ll take action.”

He says Regional Police will also be implementing a number of internal programs to quote — “ensure their value system is exemplified in the work their officers do every day.”