News / Calgary

Sexual assault reporting in Calgary jumps 20 per cent

Alberta’s #IBelieveYou campaign says survivors feel safer coming forward now when they're sexually assaulted compared to two years ago

Carrie Grant with St. Mary's University in Calgary writes a message of support on an #IBelieveYou 'graffiti wall' at the campaign's yearly launch on Monday.

ELIZABETH CAMERON

Carrie Grant with St. Mary's University in Calgary writes a message of support on an #IBelieveYou 'graffiti wall' at the campaign's yearly launch on Monday.

Survivors are increasingly being taken seriously when they confide in others about a sexual assault, organizers behind Alberta’s #IBelieveYou campaign proudly announced Monday.

Reporting of sexual assault has increased 20 per cent in Calgary and 13 per cent in Edmonton since the four-year campaign launched two years ago, according to the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS). Nationally, the reporting rate is stagnant at five per cent.

The AASAS also reported a 53 per cent jump in new counselling clients compared to before the campaign and that Albertans are 12 times more likely to believe someone who confides to them about a sexual assault.

Deb Tomlinson, CEO of AASAS, said she never thought she'd see such a measurable shift in her lifetime.

“The fear (of not being believed) is fading,” Tomlinson said. “When we see an increase in reporting, we know we’re doing a better job helping survivors feel safe to tell.”

Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS), speaks at the #IBelieveYou campaign launch on Monday.

Elizabeth Cameron

Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS), speaks at the #IBelieveYou campaign launch on Monday.

The digital campaign – a partnership between AASAS and Alberta’s Ministry of Community and Social Services – has reached an estimated seven million people on social media since 2015.

This year, for the first time, campaign posters will reflect a person with a disability to make the point that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault (different ages, races, sexual orientations and genders are already represented in the campaign).

“The tragedy of sexual violence is known within the disability community,” said Sheila Serup, who spoke on behalf of the Premier’s Council on the Status.

She said only an estimated 20 per cent of sexual abuse cases involving disabled people are reported to police, community service agencies or other authorities.

“That’s why this campaign is vitally important, it provides a voice for everyone, regardless of their ability,” Serup said.

In addition to the posters, a new 30 second PSA for television shows what a compassionate response from friends and family looks like when someone tells them about a sexual assault.

Different ages, races, sexual orientations and genders are already represented in the campaign.

Elizabeth Cameron

Different ages, races, sexual orientations and genders are already represented in the campaign.

Portable ‘graffitti walls’ have also been installed on 28 post-secondary campuses in Alberta for students to write their own messages of support to survivors.

Selfies with the walls are encouraged, too: each post with the hashtag #IBelieveYou will be compiled into a digital mosaic on the campaign's website.

“All Albertans have a role to play in preventing violence and supporting survivors,” said Minister for Community and Social Services Irfan Sabir, sporting a temporary #IBelieveYou tattoo on his hand.

“Through this campaign, we will continue to reach out to them to break the silence and stigma around this heartbreaking issue,” he said.

Despite the success so far, Tomlinson said there is a long way to go and hopes more Albertans add their voice to the conversation.

“No one ever asks to be sexually assaulted,” she said. “Letting survivors know it’s not their fault is part of believing … in reality there is only one person who is responsible, and that is the person who chose to commit the sexual assault.”

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