People were just as likely to be sexually assaulted in 2014 as they were in 2004 and just as unlikely to report the incident to police, according to a new report from Statistics Canada on self-reported sexual assaults.
The study, which used results from the General Social Survey, found there were approximately 635,000 incidents of sexual assault reported by Canadians in 2014. This amounts to a rate of 22 incidents of sexual assault for every 1,000 Canadians aged 15 and older in the 12 months that preceded the survey.
This is virtually unchanged since 2004, although the rates of all other types of crime decreased. Women were the victims in 87 per cent of incidents.
“This is one crime that’s not going down,” said Holly Johnson, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa who focuses on violence against women.
“The reporting rate just keeps dropping and it can’t drop much lower, and the prevalence stays the same. So we’re not making any progress here.”
Johnson said that societal views on sexual violence haven’t changed all that much. “Women feel powerless in situations where we discuss sexual violence and we’re just kind of dismissed. ‘Oh, it doesn’t happen. Oh, he didn’t mean it. Oh, he was drunk. He thought you were consenting.’ All these things are continuing,” she said.
The survey measured three types of assault: unwanted sexual touching, sexual attacks, and activities where the victim was unable to consent. Of these, unwanted sexual touching was reported most frequently. All three types would be considered a crime if reported to police, said Johnson.
But victims aren’t contacting the police. More than eight in 10 incidents weren’t reported in 2011, a number that has hardly changed since 2004.
The most common reasons given:
- The crime was minor and not worth taking the time to report.
- The matter was private or personal and was handled informally.
Most women gave several reasons though for not reporting – nearly half said that it wasn’t worth the hassle of dealing with police. Other common reasons included not wanting to go through the court process or a lack of evidence and a belief that reporting the incident wouldn’t lead to a conviction.
“They may just think that this is something that just happens,” said Johnson. “’I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t raped, I’m not injured.’ You’ll notice that there are multiple reasons why women don’t report to the police.”
About the victims
The survey found correlations between several characteristics of victims and their likelihood of experiencing sexual assault. Most victims were women. Most were young – under the age of 35. Single people were more likely to be assaulted. Indigenous women were more likely also.
People who reported spending time outside the home at night were also more likely to report sexual assault – though Johnson feels that that question blames women for being assaulted. “What’s the policy implication there? Don’t go out?”
“It’s all about telling women to curb their behaviour and modify their behaviour, not about men modifying theirs.”
People who report having a mental illness are also more likely to report being sexually assaulted, though Johnson says that it’s unclear whether the illness contributed to the likelihood of assault or was a result of it.
The vast majority of offenders were men (94 per cent) and in just over half of cases, were known to the victim.
READ MORE: Readers’ stories of sexual assault
Overall, Johnson feels like not much has changed in 40 years and this survey is further evidence of that.
“I think we just minimize it. We minimize it and we hold women responsible. And until we start holding men responsible and men start holding each other responsible and accountable for intervening, for preventing this, for becoming allies for women working on sexual assault prevention, we’re going to continue to have that battle.”