The Coast recently reported on a presentation that Sunny Marriner gave to Halifax's 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—violence against women advocate case review. VACR is a way of analyzing how sexual assaults are treated in the legal system. Here is our story on the presentation, describing how the board unanimously decided to let Marriner study Halifax Regional Police case files to find out if there are systemic issues to the way sexual assault complaints are approached.
With that story, we included a graphic from Marriner's presentation that shows only one quarter of one percent of all sexual assaults in Canada result in criminal convictions. Here's that graphic.
We got some feedback that people didn't understand exactly how the numbers worked, so we figured it would be good to explain. We went back into the video of the presentation to find out how Marriner put it.
At the top of the graphic, spotlighted in the version above, is also the point of most attrition in terms of cases of sexual assaults making it to trial. The very first number is 100, as in 100 per cent of all sexual assaults, and the second line shows that the vast, vast majority of cases—95 cases out of 100—are never reported to the authorities.
"Only five percent of all the sexual assaults that occur in Canada," says Marriner, "are reported to police." The graphic shows the 95 unreported cases moving to the left (labelled "Everyone Else") side of the image, while the five reported cases are on the "Criminal Justice System" side. But that doesn't mean those five make it to court.
Reporting is "the front door to the criminal justice system," Marriner says. "A person who's experienced sexual violence moves to the police level, knocks on the door of the criminal justice system. And what occurs at that moment will determine whether or not they move forward into the cycle of the rest of the arms of the criminal justice system that you see there.
"So that's a critical juncture, because that's basically the moment at which 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 policing."
Next we shift attention to those five cases that get reported to police, spotlighted above. The graphic shows that out of those five cases knocking on the door of the justice system, only one goes any further into the system. The other four cases go off to that left side of the graphic.
"Nationally, usually only one in five reports will move forward to charges," says Marriner. "So somewhere between approximately a 15-to-20 percent average charge rate across the country. And those other four reported cases do not move forward."
What causes those four cases to get derailed is the big question.
According to a major Globe and Mail investigation in 2017, one of the cases gets labelled as "unfounded." That's a police term, "a clearance category for sexual assault investigations that police have determined that no crime occurred or was attempted," Marriner says. "This has been the catch-all category for those cases where credibility is deemed an issue or that perhaps the survivor or the person reporting is not being believed as to their experience of sexual violence."
But for the other three cases, Marriner says there's a "real paucity of evidence" about "what's occurring at that moment that creates this massive attrition rate at that front end of the criminal justice system." Getting evidence and figuring out what's happening is where VACR comes in.
"So that's the focus of this work," Marriner says. "That's the focus of my work. And that's the issue that we're looking to try to address and understand better."
Given the focus on pre-charge attrition, it's understandable Marriner's presentation didn't delve into the lone case out of 100 sexual assaults that leads to criminal charges. Its spotlight in the graphic above shows that half of the time the charge doesn't make it to court.
And in those very rare instances when an attacker actually does go to court to face justice, as spotlighted in the final lines from Marriner's graphic, above, they have the same chance of being convicted as of being acquitted. This is how only .25 percent of sexual assaults lead to a conviction, or only one case out of 400 results in an attacker being found guilty by a judge.
With such an appallingly low success rate, there's little wonder 95 percent of people who've been sexually assaulted don't tell the police about it. Although if Marriner's work with VACR can lead to more cases going to trial, maybe more assault survivors will see a point in knocking on the justice system's front door.