EDMONTON – As part of Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) is hoping people will acknowledge and take action against sexual violence in the city.
“Sexual assault has an extremely negative effect on the community of Edmonton as a whole,” said Staff Sergeant Shawna Grimes, with the EPS’ Sexual Assault Section. “It takes the involvement of the community to bring about better awareness and education around this violent crime.”
Between 2009 and 2013, the number of sexual assault cases the EPS investigated in Edmonton jumped from 281 to 354.
While the numbers can be dependent upon public awareness campaigns, education, and population growth, experts say Edmonton has some of the highest rates of sexual assault in Canada, with 3.5 per cent of women and 1.4 per cent of men reporting they’ve experienced sexual assault in the past year.
As a result, a panel exploring rape culture was held Wednesday evening. Representatives from the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, the University of Alberta, Edmonton Multicultural Health Brokers, and the EPS took part in the discussion.
While it can be a difficult topic to open up about, experts say sexual violence is something society needs to address.
“Let’s have people talk about it — young people, old people, every generation. And maybe we can start to look at changing the way society looks at this as a whole,” Grimes explained.
According to the most recent Statistics Canada survey, only 12 per cent of people who had experienced sexual assault reported it to police.
Lise Gotell, chair of Women’s and Gender Studies at the U of A, says often times sexual violence is “normalized” — perpetrators are excused and victims are blamed — which can discourage some people from coming forward to report the crime.
“Victim blaming is still a problem. I mean, it may not be as big a problem as it used to be, but it’s still a big problem. We see it all around us,” Gotell explained. “It’s just simply unfair that we have placed all the responsibility for ending this problem on would-be victims.
“We have to start as a society, all of us, taking on responsibility for this problem.”
Gotell believes society also needs to be doing a much better job educating people — particularly the younger generation — on the rules around consent.
“You know, what are good ways to communicate about sex? I think that these are really important steps in eradicating rape culture. We’re not doing a very good job with young people in educating around sexual consent and sexual communication.”
Gotell says open discussions are a great first step, though, in getting the message across.