LISTEN: #MeToo and #IBelieveYou have dramatic impact on sexual assault victims in Alberta

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 3:02pm


By Jeremy Harpe and Candice Ryan Contributors


Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, says 76,000 Albertans over the age of 15 will experience sexual assault in a single year.

The #metoo movement, and the association’s #IBelieveYou campaign, which was launched in 2015, has had a significant impact on victims, allowing them to feel safe enough to disclose an assault, she said.

“We have experienced a 53 per cent increase in new counselling intakes in one year,” she told Jeremy Harpe and Candice Ryan of CFWE-FM.

The association is a network of 12 sexual assault centres across the province, ranging from Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie down to Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. The centres provide a continuum of services to sexual assault victims, including crisis response, counselling and prevention and education.

Unfortunately, while people are starting to feel more comfortable disclosing sexual assault, services are not able to keep up with demands, with some of the larger centres now having wait lists for counselling as long as nine months.

“People are feeling safe to come forward to speak their truth and we need to be able to meet that demand, and right now we are not doing that job,” Tomlinson said.

The aim of the #IBelieveYou campaign is to educate Albertans about the importance of a positive response to a disclosure of sexual assault.

“We know when people get a positive response, they are more likely to seek help, and seek justice,” said Tomlinson.

A poll about the #IBelieveYou campaign from last November revealed that 72 per cent indicated they would know what to say if someone disclosed a sexual assault, and that they would give a positive response. That’s up from 21 per cent pre-campaign.

Twenty-one per cent, up from less than one per cent pre-campaign, said they would use the term “I believe you”. Tomlinson said that indicates a culture shift in the province.

“I have never seen anything like this before.” She said sexual assault centres have been operating in the province for some 40 years, and there has never been a shift like what they are experiencing now.

“The issue of sexual assault has been shrouded by secrecy and shame. It has the lowest reporting rate of any crime in Canada… People will often tell friends and family though, and that’s why the #IBelieveYou campaign is so important.”

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