Those who work with victims of sexual assault in Alberta were quick to react to the Jian Ghomeshi verdict.

The former CBC radio host has been acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

Edmonton YWCA CEO Jackie Foord called Thursday's verdict disappointing.

Jackie Foord

YWCA CEO Jackie Foord

"It's a tough verdict to listen to," she said. "It's not really surprising given what we heard leading up to the evidence that was presented.

"It's an emotional day, it's a day to reflect on all kinds of things. Our justice system, the way that sexual assault survivors are treated within the system and also after an assault... there's no simple solutions, it's a very complex issue."

Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services CEO Deb Tomlinson said she hopes some good will come from the case.

"I have incredible admiration and respect for the survivors who came forward," Tomlinson said. "The public scrutiny and commentary that they had to endure was tremendous, and I think their willingness to come forward though has started a public conversation in our country about the crime of sexual assault that we've never seen before."

Tomlinson said it is estimated 97 per cent of sexual assault survivors do not report to the police. 

"I don't think this is going to dissuade people from coming forward, I actually think it may encourage them," she said.

People 'will think twice' about coming forward

But Foord isn't so sure.

"I think a lot of people who have been or will be assaulted will think twice about coming forward, and that would be the worst outcome of all of this," she said.

"People who have been assaulted don't need to be in the shadows, they need to come forth. They need to be supported when they go to the legal system and disclose, and they need to be supported during and after, and I'm worried this will change that for a lot of people." 

Tomlinson said she doesn't believe justice was served. But she still thinks Ghomeshi was held accountable.

Changes are needed

Deb Tomlinson

Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services CEO Deb Tomlinson

"And I think that's very important. I was just listening to a comment from one of the complainants and that's what she said, this accused was held accountable regardless of the outcome of the trial, and that it's important that everybody was able to wittiness this and that this may lead to some change." 

Both Tomlinson and Foord agree changes are needed.

"The more I think about this the more I think there needs to be a different way of presenting and/or preparing for sexual assault crimes," said Foord,

"And I say that because it's not a crime of property, it's a crime that violates the absolute essence of a human being. And the system is designed to treat it like most other crimes, and I think there needs to be a distinction."

Tomlinson suggested more education of the judiciary may be needed about the effects of sexual assault trauma.

"I think there's a lot of changes we need to look at, and I think there may be a specialized response that's required for this crime."

In the wake of the verdict, Tomlison and Foord are reminding victims they're not alone.

They encourage them to speak with friends or family who they trust, and to reach out to one of their organizations for support and guidance.