Sexual assault victims today are more likely to report their stories and less likely to face social stigma, according to a worker with the Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit.
Contrary to perceptions that many such cases go unreported, sexual assault counsellor Debbie Salmond said most victims in fact do file reports with police.
“I would say a higher percentage now are being reported, because of the violence involved with it,” Salmond said.
She added, “I think because there’s been more awareness made in the schools, in the public, about the fact that there are people out there that can help them to deal with it, I think there’s been a lot more reported now because they know there’s more action being taken.”
Earlier this week, Prince Albert police received a report of an alleged sexual assault said to have occurred at a residence in the 800 block of Seventh Street East.
The complainant, a 27-year-old woman, reported being sexually assaulted by a male acquaintance she had invited to her home after an evening of partying with him and other friends.
The woman told police that the male continued to make sexual advances even after she told him that she did not wish to have sexual relations with him.
While police are aware of the identity of the suspect, the matter remains under investigation.
“Police want to speak with the suspect prior to laying any charges,” Sgt. Curtis Halcro said at a Tuesday press conference.
Should the suspect deny the accusation, other methods of investigation remain open to police.
“There is some forensic evidence that may have to be introduced,” Halcro said.
“Oftentimes in these situations it comes down to a he said/she said type thing, and we have to use other avenues through the course of the investigation -- either polygraph or some type of forensic evidence.”
Salmond estimated that half of all sexual assault victims personally know the perpetrators.
Such pre-existing relationships, however, can often dissuade the victims from charging those who have committed sexual assault.
In many cases, a victim will call police before dropping all charges.
“It’s somebody they know, somebody they’re living with,” Salmond said as examples. “They have to live with the families of (the attacker or with) the embarrassment of it.”
I think there’s been a lot more reported now because they know there’s more action being taken. Debbie Salmond
Even when victims file charges and cases reaches the justice system, sexual assault cases have become notorious for frequently casting aspersions on the character of the victim rather than the perpetrator.
While suggesting that sentences for sexual assault could be stronger, Salmond nevertheless argued that victim-blaming has become less prevalent overall.
“I don’t think it’s thrown back on the victim as much as it used to be,” she said.
“Even if it doesn’t go to court, there’s always someone that the victim can talk to,” she added. “Sometimes they don’t want to press charges, they just need to talk about it. They just need to know they’re OK.”
When it comes to changing public attitudes, Salmond praised efforts such as the province-wide Don’t Be That Guy poster campaign, which aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults involving alcohol.
The campaign primarily targets men through the use of posters in public washrooms, particularly at drinking establishments.
“It isn’t just men who do sexual assaults,” Salmond pointed out. “But that’s the target group we went for this time, because the higher percentage that we've had to deal with have been men perpetrators.
“That’s why it went in the bathroom for the men to see, and I think people became a lot more aware that ‘OK, we’re being watched, we can’t just get away with this.’”
While awareness campaigns target potential perpetrators, Salmond noted that the amount of resources for sexual assault victims has also increased over time.
She encouraged anyone in the community who has been the victim of sexual assault to call the Mobile Crisis Unit at 764-1039.
“There is help,” Salmond said. “They just have to make the call.”