The Ottawa Police Service provides a compassionate, respectful response to some women who report male violence but others describe feeling blamed and demeaned and sometimes left in dangerous situations, a new study shows.
Professor Holly Johnson, from the uOttawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences, conducted a study with over 200 women who shared their experiences and views as part of an effort by the Ottawa Police Service to improve their response to crimes of violence against women.
Many women expressed a reluctance to involve the police following a sexual assault or partner violence due to fear and shame and concerns with how they would be treated by the police, or possibly making the situation worse. In some cases, these concerns were justified.
In cases where officers did not proceed with charges, women were often accused of fabricating the complaint. Many vowed not to involve themselves with the police again, signaling a loss of confidence in the police that may increase the vulnerability of these and other women in the future.
Researcher Holly Johnson says this study was a rare opportunity for women in Ottawa todirectly influence police policies and practices related to the crimes that affect them most: “These women are now counting on the Ottawa Police Service to take the results seriously and to make the changes needed to ensure that women receive a professional response from police in all cases.”
Only a slight majority of partner assault victims rated police favourably and ratings by victims of sexual assault were less positive.
Police laid charges in half of all partner assault cases—more often in serious assaults and less often in the case of threats and breaches of court orders. Charges were laid in just one-in-five sexual assaults.
Damaging attitudes that hold women responsible for sexual violence and assume that many women fabricate complaints underpin the actions of some members of the OPS.
This research was conducted by Professor Holly Johnson at the University of Ottawa independently of OPS and local social service agencies.
Download the summary of results of the study