October 5, 2018 9:12 am

#MeToo, 1 year later: Canadian sexual assault crisis centres report record number of calls

WATCH: October 15 marks the one-year anniversary of Alyssa Milano's tweet calling sexual assault victims to say “me too.”

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On Oct. 5, 2017, the New York Times published its explosive article detailing Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct in Hollywood.

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That sparked a movement of women who came forward with other allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace under the hashtag #MeToo in occupations all over the U.S., Canada and around the world. (The #MeToo hashtag was started by activist Tarana Burke years earlier but gained steam when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted it on Oct. 15, 2017).

READ MORE: Nobel Peace Prize awarded to anti-sexual violence activists

The movement has touched all professions – from Hollywood to politics to the medical profession. And it’s something that’s continued to be in the public eye, as the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a supreme court judge, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct during his teenage and college years.

Skip forward one year later, and sexual assault centres and crisis hotlines across the country have seen record numbers of calls asking for help.

READ MORE: #MeToo is limiting mentorship opportunities for women doctors, medical leaders say

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, calls to the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre have increased, and some Alberta rape crisis centres have seen their calls more than double.

The Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre in Vancouver now has an 18-month waiting list which it didn’t previously have, Anuradha Dugal, director of community initiatives and policy at the centre, explained to Global News.

The Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre in Ontario also said they are experiencing five times the number of calls compared to last year.

WATCH: Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre experiencing a surge in phone calls after growing #MeToo movement

“I think what we’re seeing by the #MeToo movement is that women who have received support maybe a long while ago are coming back because they’re finding the #MeToo movement is bringing back things or they’re women who have never received support and they’re coming forward,” Dugal said.

There’s still lots of work to go, Dugal said, which includes more funding for front-line services.

“The rape crisis centres, the helplines, the trauma lines, the distress centres, the shelters: they all need to have enough people funding resources to be able to respond appropriately so that those women who finally come forward aren’t left waiting for 18 months.”

READ MORE: Sexual assault helpline saw 147% spike during Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony

She also says the legal process for women who have been sexually assaulted is still traumatizing and she’d like to see changes made there.

Human rights tribunals not seeing major increases

While some provincial human rights tribunals and commissions have seen increases in the instances of gender-based discrimination cases, others say their numbers have held steady.

For example in British Columbia, there were 187 cases brought to the tribunal in the last 12 months, compared to 163 in the previous 12 months.

Statistics from the Ontario Human Rights Commission show no significant increase.

READ MORE: What to do when confronted with workplace sexual harassment

Meanwhile, in Nova Scotia officials said the Human Rights Commission has seen an approximately 50 per cent increase in inquiries over last year. Officials in Manitoba said there was an “increase” in inquiries but didn’t provide further details.

But not all provinces differentiate between sexual harassment and other gender-based discrimination like pregnancy, so it’s difficult to tell if the #MeToo movement has had a large effect on their cases.

But officials across the country do say it has had an effect on their work: there are more requests for education and training around sexual harassment in the workplace.

Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have all offered new courses on the topic this year.

WATCH: Sexual violence advocate writes op-ed about Me Too movement following sexual harassment accusation

Education is critical

Dugal says training around consent is vital to help the movement.

“A survey from the Canadian Women’s Foundation just this year found that 50 per cent of women in Canada have felt pressured into unwanted sexual activity,” she said. 

“That shows that there really is a critical need for education and understanding. How you get it is one of the most important ways we can make a change.” 

She says the problem right now is that there’s push-back from the provinces to roll back or delay programs that teach kids about sexuality and healthy relationships.

READ MORE: Kamloops schools look to boost teaching around consent and boundaries after alleged sex assaults

“Whether there will be a generational change is really up to what we’re willing to accept that that’s what kids need to be taught in school,” Dugal said. 

I would strongly say Canadians need to say we want it taught in school.” 

While many people have heard about Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plan to roll back a sexual education program, Dugal says there’s also push-back in Quebec and Alberta.

What’s changed over the year? 

Dugal says there’s more focus on understanding sexual assault in her work than there was a year ago: “We spend a lot more time highlighting the importance of education.” 

Another change is that there’s been more talk about who’s responsible for it.

“There’s a lot more talk about the idea that we have to hold men accountable. I think that’s much more prevalent than it’s been before,” she said. 

“Because we know it’s a small minority of men who are perpetrating sexual violence then I think I’ve seen much more talk about how the men who aren’t perpetrators need to speak up.”

But she says the #MeToo movement has just stoked a fire that started a few years ago.

“I think it’s been a fire that’s been raging for three years,” Dugal explained. “Starting with Bill Cosby or you could trace it back to Jian Ghomeshi.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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