News Article: Justice System Inadequately Protects Women--Rape Relief

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vancouver Courier, April 23, 2008

Louisa Russell believes at least four sexual assaults in Vancouver could have been prevented if Whistler police had adequately handled an earlier complaint involving the alleged rapist.

Russell, of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, said Fernando Manuel Alves of Burnaby, a pub owner and former vice-president of the B.C. Ball Hockey Association, was accused by a woman in Whistler in 2005 of raping her. But according to Russell the RCMP bungled the investigation and no charges were laid. She said the police interviewed the alleged victim while she was drunk, didn't get a sexual assault examiner to collect forensic evidence and didn't allow a woman's advocate to sit with the alleged victim when she gave police her testimony.

An investigation by the Vancouver Police Department into assaults against women in Vancouver led to four charges of sexual assault and one count of administering a noxious substance. The preliminary trial for Alves is scheduled to start Aug. 19.

In the case of Merritt mother Darcie Clarke, who previously resided in Vancouver, Russell believes police could have done more to build a case against her husband, Allan Schoenborn, before their three children were found dead and Schoenborn fled from police. Although Russell conceded she doesn't know all the details of the case.

She said police often fail to thoroughly investigate relationship violence by not photographing bruises, recording the physical state of a home they visit, or collecting forensic evidence in the case of sexual assault. She said they also don't interview neighbours, so that the weight of a case doesn't fall squarely on the shoulders of the alleged victim.

Police resources need to be reallocated to reflect the frequency and severity of cases of violence against women in relation to other crimes, she said.

"So we have our jails filled with people for petty property crime or small drug related offences, but wouldn't it be better if the women and children who are being terrorized had their equality and their safety seen to. Surely that's more important."

Russell said a policy on violence against women involved in relationships that came out of the Oppal Commission in the 1990s is good but inadequately enforced. She said the provincial and federal governments must make preventing violence a priority instead of downloading responsibility to individual women.

"In Darcie Clarke's case they went on immediately about how it was her fault because she recanted," she said. "And then in the case of Alves, immediately afterwards, the police were issuing warning to women to watch their drinks at night or to be careful when leaving bars. And there's no way that individual women can deal with the phenomenon of violence against women."

Rape Relief marks its 35th year this week with an international meeting in Vancouver on policing violence against women during Prevention of Violence Against Women Week. Leading feminist thinkers, academics and activists from across Canada, the U.S. the U.K., Australia and New Zealand and women who've born the brunt of violence will recommend changes to end violence against women.

Sgt. Richard Rabinovitch, head of the Vancouver Police Department's domestic violence and criminal harassment unit, said the specialized unit started in Vancouver in 1997, less than a year after a similar unit started in New Westminster. It includes detectives devoted to criminal harassment and stalking, domestic violence and a detective devoted to elder abuse. It also includes counsellors from Family Services of Greater Vancouver and trains patrol members how to respond to cases of domestic violence.

"The departments that don't have units that specialize in domestic violence, they don't have so much the luxury of ongoing training and people who have the expertise to make sure that that's taken care of," Rabinovitch said. "But I know in a lot of jurisdictions they are trying to fix that."