August 31, 2015 3:08 pm
Updated: August 31, 2015 8:56 pm

Alberta’s #IBelieveYou campaign aims to support sex assault victims

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WATCH ABOVE: The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services is hoping the “I Believe You” campaign will make victims more comfortable about coming forward to tell their story. 

CALGARY — A public awareness campaign is underway aimed at educating people about how to respond to and comfort victims of sexual assault.

The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services is hoping the “I Believe You” campaign will make victims more comfortable about coming forward to tell their story.

Several videos have been produced and posted to YouTube with the idea that people will share and watch them on social media.

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University of Alberta professor of women’s and gender studies Lise Gotell said sexual assault survivors’ disclosures are typically met with disbelief, and thinks the campaign is an important sign the government is “finally treating sexual violence seriously.”

“When friends, family members, help professionals and police respond with suspicion and disbelief, it leads to a culture of impunity for offenders,” said Gotell, who researches sexual assault and law. “From the survivors’ standpoint, the research very clearly shows that when disclosures are met with support and an attitude of belief, PTSD is reduced.”

Numbers for the campaign suggest 97 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported.

They also indicate only 15 per cent of Albertans would be confident enough to know what to say if a sexual assault victim came to them looking for help.

Gotell said rates of sexual assault are highest in Alberta and British Columbia, and said the campaign is intervening in a “very serious social problem.”

The campaign is being funded by the provincial government and is being supported by 23 post-secondary institutions.

“It focuses on the responders and lets them know that in a very simple way they can make a positive difference in somebody’s life,” Debra Tomlinson, CEO of the sexual assault association, said Monday.

“When survivors receive a positive response, they’re more likely to get help, and seek justice, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Gotell said the fact post-secondary institutions are involved with the campaign will hopefully lead to better supports for student victims.

“Ontario has compelled its colleges and universities to develop sexual assault centres,” said Gotell. “This campaign will hopefully promote some policy development here.”

CHED, CHQR with files from Global reporter Erika Tucker

© 2015 The Canadian Press and Global News

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