Police-reported incidence of domestic violence is down. Reports of sexual assault are up. Violent crimes in general are down.
But Debbie Scarborough isn’t sure that the incidence of violence against women, in reality, is down.
“We still don’t all believe that if we respond to a call and we have evidence to believe that an assault took place that an information (charges) must be laid, that’s still not being followed,” the executive director of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society said in a discussion with Penticton RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager, now 10 months into his tenure as the South Okanagan’s top cop.
“But I’m hopeful that with you that that might change. … That’s fair to say, right? You’re looking to change the culture, and certainly I’ve seen a change.”
The Western News sat in on that conversation between De Jager and Scarborough earlier this week, in which the two discussed issues of violence against women, the culture of police and society surrounding that issue and trust in policing.
De Jager previous post was Mission, B.C., where he served as the inspector overseeing that detachment, which he said had one of the higher rates of police-reported domestic violence, but he didn’t believe Mission was a standout district for domestic violence.
“It was just, I guess, our statistical reporting was very high because we were very dedicated to doing it the right way,” he said.
In the South Okanagan last year there were 230 reports of domestic violence, also called K-files, down 17 per cent from the year previous. In Penticton, specifically, De Jager didn’t provide a firm number of domestic violence reports, but said it was down 29 per cent, while violent crimes in the city, at 383 reports, is down 18 per cent.
More broadly, a recent piece from Discourse Media showed a downward trend in police-reported violence against women as a whole, after the outlet filed access-to-information requests with every police detachment in the country.
In 2009, the incidence of violence against women peaked at 2,228 incidents, slowly dropping to 2,032 in 2011 before dropping significantly to 1,260 in 2012 and slowly trickling down to about the 950 mark in 2015.
“I am not sure why there would be that kind of anomaly other than there could have been a change in methodology in that period. I couldn’t go into any more explanation without a detailed analysis,” De Jager said in an email last week.
Scarborough said a major challenge is finding the actual number of incidents of domestic and sexual violence due to the sheer number of those who don’t report — typically 90 per cent, she said.
“When I was looking at the stats, I think there was 230 K-files filed in the last year. How do you feel? Do you think that that’s actually accurate? Because I can tell you that’s totally not,” she said, adding one could typically infer roughly 2,300 incidents of domestic violence from 230 police reports.
For Scarborough, the number of women reporting is indicative of trust, relationship building and how well-supported women feel.
Scarborough said part of the challenge in the past — and to some degree now, as well — is cultural beliefs of relationships and sex.
“I think there’s also that belief, right, that a husband, can have sex whenever he wants, or whatever, and you can’t scream rape if you’re married,” she said. “I’m hoping that that’s not believed anymore, but I think to a certain degree, it is.”
De Jager said the RCMP has been working to bring more education to officers on sexual and domestic violence, saying that notion of a married man being entitled to sex is one of the cultural beliefs the RCMP wants to cut out.
“There can be cultural differences and that sort of thing, but really that’s something that we want to work with people about,” he said, but he was also quick to defend the force, saying officers more often than not get into policing to “catch bad guys.”
SOWINS is seeing an increase in the number of people seeking their services for things like domestic and sexual violence, but much like how a decrease in police reporting may not mean a decrease in actual incidence, Scarborough noted her numbers may not mean an increase either.
“I think people feeling comfortable and safe and knowing the resources to come for assistance are increasing. I think the education and the awareness of the agencies are out there, so we’re certainly seeing it,” she said.
“We’re definitely larger, we’re now doing trauma counselling, so I just think that we’re having the services that reflect the need of the community. And we’ve applied for a sexual assault counsellor.”
De Jager said he is also working to get more officer time in the community, including patrolling downtown and even getting out of their cars and walking the beat.
“Then we can be downtown, and then when you’re talking about violence against women or violence against vulnerable populations, then the members are actually down there,” he said.
“The on-shift people need to be down there walking around and talking to people, too, and then you start to see that shift in the community where the community goes ‘oh, the police are around a lot more.’”