Sexual assaults on the rise in C-K

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(Metro Creative Graphics image)

“We need to have Chatham-Kent understand that this is a problem here. It’s not somebody else’s problem.”

Those are the words of Linda Soulliere, executive director of the Chatham-Kent Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (CKSACC).

We are nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century and sexual assaults are getting worse, not better.

“It’s the only violent crime that isn’t on a decline – sexual assault. It has actually increased 20 per cent year over year,” Soulliere said.

“We have a problem here. We have a problem with domestic violence; have a problem with rape and sexual assault; and with trafficked women,” Soulliere said. “We’ve had 27 women who have been trafficked from Chatham-Kent. It’s so overwhelming in this area, the amount of violence towards women.”

May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and CKSACC personnel have a number of events planned, as well as a wish list.

The recognition began with a flag raising April 30 at the Civic Centre. There will be an educational display at the Seniors Fair in Tilbury May 9, and similar displays at the CKHA May 23 and 30.

One event offered by CKSACC during May is a self-defense workshop for women. It’s a hot ticket.

“We are almost at maximum capacity. We have had a lot of interest in it,” Soulliere said of the course, which takes place May 11 at the WISH Centre in Chatham. “They will be taught ways to immediately escape or how to get out of zip ties. The course is taught by a woman who is a survivor.”

The interest is there because the need is there, Soulliere said

Close to 30 per cent of all woman have experienced sexual assault sometime in their lives, Soulliere said. It’s even worse for homeless women and non-binary and transgendered homeless youth. Soulliere said more than 40 per cent of people in these groups are victimized by sexual assault.

“It’s about power and the imbalance of power,” Soulliere said. “Unfortunately, only 10 per cent of all incidents get reported to police. Out of those, about one per cent end up in charges.

“Women just don’t feel comfortable with police to report it.”

Soulliere said officers need to cease with any predispositions, and alter their thinking.

“Women don’t want to deal with police and they don’t feel they will be treated seriously. You can tell their (officers) attitudes when they attend the scene and the way they treat the victim,” she said. “It’s how they respond when they deal with a homeless woman, or someone who has been drinking. We really need to work on that.”

How police respond is the tip of the judicial iceberg.

“In Chatham-Kent and London, over 50 per cent of cases that are reported are dismissed prior to charges being laid. They are considered unfounded. There is also victim blaming. Women are aware of it and are afraid of it. A lot don’t come forward.”

Soulliere said one in five victims of sexual assault experience victim blaming.

Add to that the fact only about one per cent of sexual assaults end up with someone being sentenced for the crime, and that leads to victims feeling largely helpless.

“That’s not very empowering. The rapists know they probably won’t go to trial,” she said. “There needs to be some work to be more supportive to the victims.”

The displays in the cafeteria at the CKHA will be attempts to reach teenagers. Soulliere said a lot of students from Ursuline College Chatham (UCC) utilize the hospital cafeteria.

This sets the stage for a wish by Soulliere for later this year.

“We hope to be allowed into the high schools next fall to do some education,” she said. “We’re working on a workshop series we hope to present in the high schools. It will be on topics like consent, respect and how to be an ally.”

The CKSACC is targeting our youth in an effort to better educate people on the problem.

“It’s pretty bad in the high schools right now,” Soulliere said. “We have to start with our young people. Educate people.”

In the meantime, the sexual assaults continue. In the past year, more than 400,000 sexual assault complaints were filed in Canada.

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