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#IBelieveYou campaign changes the way Albertans respond to sexual assault allegations

WATCH ABOVE: Sarah Offin takes a look at the impact of a social media campaign to better prepare Albertans in responding to sexual assault allegations.

CALGARY – Would you know how to respond if someone told you they were sexually assaulted?

You’re almost twice as likely to have a positive, supportive reaction since the awareness raised by a campaign by the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services (AASAS), according to a poll conducted by Leger, a research and strategic marketing firm.

This fall, the association launched #IBelieveYou, which included public service announcements on TV, radio and on social media. The hope was to give victims the courage to come forward and, for those they confide in, tools to help.

Deb Tomlinson, the CEO of AASAS, said positive responses to allegations include, “I’m sorry this happened to you. It’s not your fault. I believe you. How can I help? When you’re ready, can I connect you to some resources, like counseling?”

WATCH: Mother of alleged sexual assault victim defends Anonymous video

In a poll of over 1,000 Albertans, 21 per cent said they would respond with some of these positive, supportive words before the campaign began in September.

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After it finished in October, 44 per cent of those polled – almost twice as many people – had positive responses.

Negative responses, meanwhile, might include questions like, “are you sure?”

“What you don’t want to do is ask questions, doubt, or to judge,” Tomilson said. “That’s not our job as family and friends – we’ll leave that to police.”

False reporting for sexual assault is about the same as any other crime – between two and five per cent. For many, the fear the person they confide in won’t believe them means they don’t ever report it. It’s part of the reason why sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in Canada.

READ MORE: Canada sees decline in all crimes but sexual assault rates

But now, five times as many Albertans say they would include the words “I believe you” in their response.

“After the third time of disclosing and finally being believed, it was like a weight had been lifted off,” said a young woman who wished not to be identified. She was the victim of sexual assault as a child.

“All of a sudden I’m not being interrogated, I’m not being treated like I’m the one who did something wrong.”

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