Sask. sexual assault strategy expected in spring 2019

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Saskatchewan has the second highest rate of sexual assault among the provinces, but not overarching strategy. David Baxter has more on the plan to build one – Nov 24, 2018

Police reported sexual assaults are up 27.9 per cent in Regina so far this year compared to 2017. In Saskatoon, police data shows sexual violations are up 18.8 per cent.

Both sets of data come from the September end of month crime reports.

This once again had the Opposition NDP calling on the provincial government to develop a sexual assault strategy.

“We’re the only province in Canada that does not have a sexual assault strategy. Considering we have the second worst rates of reported sexual assault in the country, we’re far behind in terms of addressing this,” justice critic Nicole Sarauer said.

In addition to a strategy, Sarauer called for additional funding for sexual assault centres in Saskatchewan, describing the current amount as “stagnant”. Sarauer said this creates a multitude of issues.

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“There’s turnover in staff, morale issues, and many of these service centres have to cut programs to ensure they can provide the most services with the very, very limited amount of resources they have,” she said.

Status for Women Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor agreed that more needs to be done to offer sexual assault supports. Currently, a sexual assault strategy is being developed through the Status of Women office and lead by Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS).

That working group’s report, which will include a sexual assault strategy, is scheduled to be released in the spring.

“We are aware of a number of barriers to people reporting sexual assault. We know of course in this province we have one of the highest rates of sexual assault, and in a recent report that I read we’re up by one per cent. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you’re the highest any jump is problematic,” Beaudry-Mellor said.

“It can take four to five weeks for a sexual assault survivor to access support services; that is too long. We need to do something about that, so I have directed the Status of Women office to ensure that is part of the strategy going forward.”

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SASS project coordinator Patience Umereweneza says the goal of their work is to establish partnerships to help change conversations around sexual assault.

“We conducted a needs assessment to look at what are the experiences of sexual violence across the province, and that needs assessment will guide the recommendations and what are the strategies and priorities of the action plan,” Umereweneza  said.

Among things that need to change in the province according to SASS are barriers to reporting sexual assaults. SASS executive directo Kerrie Isaac said that barriers can include fear of the perpetrator (85 per cent of victims are assaulted by a known person), victim blaming, lack of supports and negative prior experience with law enforcement.

“All those barriers are still evident and we see them and our agencies have reported that they’re seen within their communities,” Isaac said.

In simple terms, Umereweneza said these barriers can include fears of “where you drinking” or “what were you wearing” lines of questioning.

“It could be the attitudes of service providers, it can be the lack of processes that are aware of how trauma impacts survivors, it could be even the lack of understanding that sexual violence can happen through different kinds of relationships,” Umereweneza added.

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“Lack of that understanding can really lead to lack of inclusive services and how to support someone in a wholesome way, a holistic way throughout the process.

This kind of change was factored into sexual assault strategies in both Alberta and Ontario and those provinces have been seeing positive steps according to SASS.

Scope of sexual assault

According to Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan had 1,196 police-reported sexual assaults in 2016. Two hundred sixty-six of those victims were between the ages of 18 and 24; 510 victims were under the age of 18. A vast majority of victims were female, 1,069.

It is difficult to gauge the exact amount of sexual assaults that happen, due to evidence pointing to a high number of unreported incidents. According to Stats Canada, 91 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported.

In the October Regina board of police commissioners meeting, Chief Evan Bray said he believes the rising rates of sexual assault comes from more people reporting the crime.

Parts of an eventual strategy Beaudry-Mellor would like to see, include a reduction in wait times for services and a coordinated effort from programs aimed at promoting education on consent. The minister referenced Man Up Against Violence at the University of Regina as an example.

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This would be on top of already introduced initiatives like two free hours of legal consultation for sexual assault victims and provisions around revenge porn.

“I want to give credit to my colleagues who I think have done a lot of amazing work on this file, but there’s still more to do unfortunately, because this is not a statistic we’re proud to have,” Beaudry-Mellor said.

“If the government is serious about making this a priority, then they need to attach some dollar figures to this and they need to increase the funding for sexual assault support services in our province,” Sarauer said.

Beaudry-Mellor said funding for sexual assault services falls under the justice ministry. While she is not directly involved in those budget discussions, she said Justice Minister Don Morgan considers this a priority.

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