News  Sexual assault numbers disputed

On July 12, La Presse reported that the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) had seen a 25 per cent decrease in sexual assault reports since 2007. However, SPVM spokesperson Laurent Gingras told The Daily, “in reality the number of reports of sexual assault since 2007 has been going up.”

This statement is supported by the 2011 SPVM annual report, which reported 1256 cases of sexual assault last year – a slight decrease from 2007, when 1320 cases were reported, but nowhere near the 25 percent decrease reported by La Presse.

2010 also saw a jump in the number of sexual assault cases, which numbered 1,597, according to the SPVM report.

Gingras said that some of the increases in reports could be due to recent media coverage.

“There have been a couple incidents that have been publicized because they happened to known persons of the public, which has made more people come forward with these assaults,” said Gingras.

Deborah Trent, director of the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre, said that the organization has not seen any decrease in the number of people who require their services.

“[The police statistics] are just the reported ones,” Trent told The Daily.

“Many [survivors of sexual assault] don’t come forward because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of violence or retribution…they’re afraid that they’re not going to be believed, they don’t believe it themselves, they want to forget about it,” she said.

However, Trent expressed optimism at survivors’ increased willingness to report assault. “I think that over the years there are more people that report [sexual assault] than used to years ago,” she said.

Vancouver has seen a similar confusion over sexual assault statistics.

In reaction to the Vancouver Police Department’s release of statistics showing a decrease in sexual assault, the Vancouver Rape Crisis Centre (VRCC) stated that they have been receiving a consistently increasing number of calls for their services and are especially concerned with whether women are able to view the police as a safe service.

“It is clear that while women trust women’s services to assist them after being attacked, they obviously do not trust the state agent that is responsible to protect women from male violence: the police,” VRCC spokesperson Hilla Kerner told The Daily.

“There is nothing to celebrate about the decrease of sexual assault reports to police in British Columbia,” added Kerner.

This summer, a class action lawsuit was launched against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) regarding the sexual harassment of female officers, with at least 200 complaints, according to the CBC.

In July, RCMP Recruiter Supt. Maria Nickel stated that women “need to rely on that inner strength” when faced with harassment on the job.

Kerner explained that this lack of concern for sexual harassment issues within the RCMP’s own ranks may inhibit survivors from coming forward with their own complaints about sexual assault.

“Their behaviour toward sexism within the RCMP just reinforces distrust,” she said.