Despite recent high-profile cases coming to light, sexual assaults remain under-reported across Canada.
Here in Saskatchewan, a growing number of supports for survivors will be highlighted in the coming days for sexual assault awareness week.
“Typically, sexual assault is only reported in about 10 per cent of cases nationally in Canada,” said Heather Pocock with the Saskatoon Sexual Assault Centre.
The centre’s support staff can offer guidance for survivors, including assistance in hospital, providing information about forensics kits and later, if needed, dealing with police and the court system.
Pocock said it’s up to the survivor to decide how much or little of this outside help to accept, and when; adding whether someone chooses to speak publicly or pursue charges does not affect the help they receive.
“We always say, ‘That’s a legal system. That’s a system that may or may not bring justice.’ It certainly doesn’t always bring healing to the individual,” she said.
Pocock said while cases like the recent Jian Ghomeshi trial might encourage more people to seek counsel, it might not lead to an increase in court hearings.
“We know there are a lot of reasons why people don’t want to report it, but certainly when there are high-profile cases like this in the media; it does affect people and their decisions,” Pocock said, pointing to the sometimes damaging portrayal of victims in the media.
According to Statistics Canada, one in three women are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives; one in six for men.
“Most of those will occur, for males, generally around age 12; and females often by the age of 18,” she said, adding most offenders are known to the victims, which aids in the shame and silencing of sexual assaults.
The centre also does work on bystander intervention, and has put the focus on university campus sexual assaults.
“We work really closely with the universities so that when a sexual assault happens we are there to support the individuals and we will assist them in the hospital or when talking to police if that’s what they desire of us,” Pocock said.
Most recently, the Saskatoon Sexual Assault Centre launched its new website, complete with a social media campaign you can follow at #whowillhelpyouspeak.
The centre also provides a 24-hour crisis line, along with free and confidential counselling for survivors and anyone else impacted by sexual assault.