Human Rights Watch released on Wednesday its investigation into the "Highway of Tears" – the name used to describe an infamous 800-kilometre stretch of highway in central British Columbia on which a series of unsolved murders and disappearances of women have occurred.
The investigation, called Those Who Take Us Away, found that while the RCMP have not been able to effectively deal with the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, there have also been a number of disturbing allegations of rape and sexual assault at the hands of its officers.
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Researchers with Human Rights Watch spent five weeks in 10 northern B.C. towns last summer during which they conducted 87 interviews with 42 indigenous women and eight indigenous girls between the ages of 15 and 60 years old.
They documented numerous accounts of women and girls in indigenous communities finding themselves in a constant state of fear. Researchers also noted the all of the victims in the report were frightened about possible retaliation within their communities or by police and insisted on having their identities protected.
“(This report) was about the level of fear that I and my colleague witnessed in the north at levels that we found comparable in conflict situations in post-war Iraq,” lead researcher Meghan Rhoad told reporters in Ottawa during a news conference on Wednesday. “It’s about the lack of meaningful accountability for police neglect or police mistreatment which creates an environment of impunity for violence against ingenious woman and girls.”
According to Human Rights Watch, one woman reported that in July 2012 police officers took her outside of town, raped her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
The report also documents instances of girls as young as 12 being pepper-sprayed and tasered, a 12-year-old girl attacked by a police dog, a 17-year-old punched repeatedly by an officer who had been called to help her, women strip-searched by male officers, and others injured due to excessive force used during arrest.
"In five of the 10 towns Human Rights Watch visited in the north, we heard allegations of rape or sexual assault by police officers," the report states.