Vancouver police statement on Hastings sex assaults disputed

A women’s support group is taking issue with the Vancouver Police Department’s statement that says “no sexual assaults were reported” to the VPD since the dismantling of the East Hastings Street encampment, saying that oversimplifies what is likely going on in the area.

On Monday, the VPD said East Hastings Street is seeing “signs of change” since an encampment was dismantled by city staff who were accompanied by police on April 5. In addition to a reduction in other crimes, police said as of April 20, there hadn’t been a sexual assault reported since the displacement.

Read More: East Hastings Street seeing ‘signs of change’ after forced displacement of unhoused: Vancouver police

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of the Battered Women’s Support Services Association, says the statement from police is “troubling and problematic.”

“It’s not appropriate for them to be making a statement like that for a whole bunch of reasons,” she told CityNews on Tuesday. “It’s an oversimplification of what is involved for women who report sexual assault both in the encampment but also on the Downtown Eastside.”

She notes that sexual assault is a crime that victims often have a hard time reporting.

“Sexual assault is the least reported to police of violent crime. That’s just in general. For so many survivors, they aren’t reporting to police,” she explained.

“Of course, there wouldn’t be any reports there (East Hastings) because there’s nobody there to make a report. It’s just bizarre.”

MacDougall says she’s brought her concerns to the VPD, who she says told her that she’s misinterpreting the initial statement.

“We’re trying to work with them and it’s very troubling,” she said. “Sexual assault in the encampment has become a public relations, a public affairs, football that’s being bounced around right now. Frankly, I’m just disappointed.”

VPD Sgt. Steve Addison acknowledged that sexual assault is an underreported crime, but stands by the department’s statement that the former encampment area is improving.

“That doesn’t mean there weren’t sexual assaults, and we’ve always said that sexual violence, and violence in general within the encampment, is vastly underreported,” he told CityNews.

However, he says, “We believe things are starting to move in the right direction.”

Addison points to the survey run by Atira Women’s Resource Society that has been included in previous VPD statements, all 50 women living in the Downtown Eastside surveyed said they’d been subjected to violence in the encampment.

“We stand by what we said. We believe Atira, we believe the results, and we’ll continue to do our work in that neighbourhood to return it to the place where all people can feel safe again,” he said, adding that the VPD will not be re-issuing the statement.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to show the VPD said there were “no sexual assaults reported” to the force. 

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