Advocates support Alberta government decision to create a best practice guide to help police investigate sexual assault cases

Click to play video 'Advocates speak out at Sherwood Park Consent Walk' Advocates speak out at Sherwood Park Consent Walk
WATCH ABOVE: Hundreds of people joined an event in Sherwood Park that aims to raise awareness of sexual violence in the province. As Albert Delitala reports, they support a decision by the province to enact best-practice guidelines when investigating sexual assault cases – May 26, 2018

The number of reported sexual assaults is on the rise in Alberta, but advocates estimate only five per cent of victims actually come forward to police.

Combating that statistic is one of the motives behind the third annual Consent Walk and Fun Run which took place at Broadmoor Lake in Sherwood Park Saturday.

The event aims to raise awareness of sexual violence, while also raising much-needed funds for client services at the Saffron Centre.

“A lot of the increase [in sexual assault reports] we’ve seen in the past year has been historical sexual violence,” said Katie Kitschke, executive director at the Saffron Centre. “So something that happened years ago, and they’ve come to the point in their lives where they just can’t handle it anymore so they’re coming to us so they can start their healing process.”

The Saffron Centre provides much-needed counseling and support services to sexual abuse survivors who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the services.

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READ MORE: Best practice guide to help Alberta police investigate sexual assault cases

Kitschke also applauded a decision by the provincial government Friday to create a best practice guide for police services across Alberta.

The guide outlines up-to-date information about sexual violence and better ways to support victims.

The new guidelines are intended to recognize the effect that trauma can have on victims of sexual assault.

“[It] can serve as a guideline as to what to do when you’re presented with such traumatic information and what kind of stereotypes and myths are associated with it,” said Estefania Cortes-Vargas, MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park, “so we don’t keep repeating the same things that we’ve seen for years.”

Earlier this month, the province proclaimed May Sexual Violence Awareness Month.

“That’s in recognition of the rising rates we’ve seen and the movement that we’ve seen altogether,” Cortes-Vargas added. “We need to prevent sexual violence and the government is committed to doing that.”

READ MORE: Alberta gives $8.1M to support services for sexual assault survivors

“[We need to] make sure survivors know they are supported by the government [and] the police,” Cortes-Vargas said.
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“I think when we do that, we change the stigma of what it means to come forward.”

“The attitude has changed in society and people are feeling believed and trusting the system,” Kitschke said. “Looking at it with a trauma based approach is exactly what is needed.”

“There’s that stigma attached to it and that guilt and shame that comes along with it,” Christina Dutkowski with the Saffron Centre remarked. “So I think it’s really important to change that conversation and start talking about sexual violence collectively.”

Saturday’s event aimed to raised about $20,000.