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U of O professor Holly Johnson unveiled her research on police response to allegations of sexual violence. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik

Event features research analyzing police response by U of O professor

Research by University of Ottawa Professor Holly Johnson found that a number of women who reported sexual violence were deterred by the Ottawa Police’s response to violence against women. Johnson’s study was featured during the Shine the Light campaign, which aims to raise awareness of violence against women, at city hall on Nov. 4.

Johnson presented, for the first time, results from her study Improving the Police Response to Crimes of Violence against Women: Ottawa Women Have Their Say, which the Ottawa police service intends to use as part of its initiative.

Johnson said the Ottawa police have a lot of work to do to end violence against women. “What’s concerning is that we’re still dealing with some of the entrenched attitudes that are entrenched societal wide,” said Johnson, attitudes that believe that women bring sexual violence upon themselves.

“There are some pretty serious criticism of the police response I think that they need to take on board,” said Johnson. Her research found that only 37 per cent of sexual assault victims felt the first officer was considerate of their feelings and opinions, while only 22 per cent felt comfortable talking with the officer.

“I think where we need to continue doing some more work is the front line, the first responders,” said Bordeleau. “Our officers are very well equipped to understanding…  all the dynamics around women that are victims, so to be sensitive to that, so that’s ongoing training.”

Recently a University of Ottawa student went public with her own sexual assault story, calling on the Ottawa police to re-open the case. The police released a statement on Nov.  6 saying the investigation is ongoing.

The event was put on by the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) along with representatives from the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences and the Ottawa police.

The collaborative effort was in part due to police chief Charles Bordeleau’s initiative launched in 2014 to improve police response to crimes involving violence against women.

Erin Leigh, executive director of OCTEVAW, said the organization helped recruit Johnson’s survey participants and has previously worked with the university’s task force for respect and equality.

“We’re launching Holly’s results at this event because it’s so important, and we’ve been working with Dr. Johnson, the Ottawa police and other community organizations on this research,” said Leigh.

Dr. Johnson is a member of OCTEVAW, and a member of the advisory committee to the Ottawa police which seeks to improve the response to crimes of violence against women.

The event comes in the wake of nearby Renfrew County’s recent murders of three women and the current trial of Howard Richmond, who is charged with the first-degree murder of his wife Melissa in 2013.

“It’s very rare that police will open the door in a public way about this,” said Johnson. “They’re going to be under some pressure to do something with it because of the people around the table and because everybody’s given so much time to this whole initiative.”