Calls for change after high number of sexual assaults deemed 'unfounded'

The New Brunswick Women's Council is calling on the province to improve institutional responses to sexual violence.

This after an investigation by the Globe and Mail found that 32 per cent of reported sexual assaults in New Brunswick over a five-year period were classified as "unfounded" – nearly double the national average of 19 per cent.

Council co-chair Jennifer Richard called the findings "extremely alarming" as she said sexual violence is already underreported.

According to the council, an "unfounded" classification means police found no crime was attempted or occurred.

Council co-chair Jody Dallaire said multiple institutions, including law enforcement, create barriers that prevent or discourage survivors of sexual violence from coming forward.

Dallaire said work on the issue must involve law enforcement, justice and public safety officials, and the educational and healthcare systems.

The council is recommending that government develop a plan to address challenges sexual assault survivors face not only when reporting, but when interacting with the justice system.

As part of that plan, they want to see a comprehensive review of policing procedures relating to sexual violence reports, trauma-informed training for those who work with survivors, and access to free legal advice for all sexual assault survivors, including those who have not talked to law enforcement.

The New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police have told several media outlets that all nine municipal police forces will review sexual assault cases classified as "unfounded" between 2010 and 2014.