‘We represent the 40%’: Protesters swarm Kelowna RCMP over unfounded sexual assault reports

Aden Withers (left) and Heather Friesen (right) during the protest of the Kelowna RCMP on Nov. 23. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
About 25 people protesting the Kelowna RCMP’s high number of unfounded sexual assault reports on Nov. 23. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
Protesters take the street at the RCMP detachment in downtown Kelowna on Nov. 23. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
(Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
(Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)

Several sexual assault survivors and their allies took to the sidewalk out front of the Kelowna RCMP detachment on Saturday to voice their concerns surrounding Kelowna’s high number of unfounded sexual assault reports.

As first reported in the Kelowna Capital News on Oct. 25, Statistics Canada data shows the Kelowna RCMP classified almost 40 per cent of sexual assault reports as unfounded in 2018. That number is more than double the 15 per cent average across the province and dwarfs the under five per cent averages in Vancouver and Victoria.

The protest, organized by two local rape survivors who had their reports deemed as such, Heather Friesen and Aden Withers, called for better officers, training and an external investigation of the Kelowna RCMP. Currently, the RCMP’s Sexual Assault Review Team is in the midst of reviewing the numbers.

“The RCMP can not investigate itself,” said Friesen.

READ MORE: Protest planned against Kelowna RCMP’s high unfounded sexual assault numbers

READ MORE: Kelowna mayor apologizes for initial reaction to sexual assault statistics

Donning signs reading, “rape culture lives here” and “RCMP serves and protects rapists,” among several others, the protesters chanted at Kelowna RCMP building. “We represent the 40 per cent, we represent the 40 per cent!” the group of around 25 shouted towards the detachment.

“We’re here protesting the rape culture within the Kelowna RCMP,” said Friesen, who was allegedly gang-raped when she was 15.

“I have had multiple women come up to me and tell me that the RCMP aren’t even willing to take their statements. The 40 per cent unfounded isn’t a true representation of what’s going on. So, I don’t believe 40 per cent is true — I believe it’s higher.

“We’re not here about me being raped; we’re not here about any of these women being raped. We’re here about the RCMP not doing their jobs.”

Withers came to the protest with a red handprint painted on her face, representing missing and murdered indigenous women, a group which she said is heavily intertwined with and targeted by rape culture.

“I was targeted because I was part of the Aboriginal ministry,” she said.

“Being targeted even with the white-passing privilege that I have opened my eyes to how Indigenous people of Canada are truly treated and it’s disgusting.”

During the rally, Withers spoke of her experience reporting to RCMP, citing the brutal and victimizing questioning she endured, in which she was asked if she was “turned on” while she was raped.

Friesen, who has been very vocal since the numbers were released, taking on the RCMP and even the mayor, said she holds no shame regarding what happened to her.

“My rapists hold all the shame, my friends hold all the shame, the RCMP hold all the shame,” she said.

In a Nov. 8 statement, the Kelowna RCMP said it could not provide an explanation as to why so many cases were deemed unfounded.

“We understand that there are many questions about the roots of these statistics, and we’re taking immediate steps to get answers,” said Cpl. Meghan Foster.

“The BC RCMP has conducted a preliminary review of these files, but we are currently not in a position to provide specific examples of why any of these investigations were deemed unfounded. For every investigation, there are many variables — each investigation is different and we do not want to deter any other survivors from bravely coming forward to report a sexual assault.”

The RCMP has not given a timeline as to when the Sexual Assault Review Team’s investigation will be completed.

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