Vancouver police relaunch awareness campaign after spike in unwanted sexual touching
Sexual assault reports to police rose in July, despite being 'vastly underreported'
Vancouver's police force has relaunched a campaign to raise awareness about the criminality of unwanted sexual touching following a surge in reported sexual assaults in the city last month.
There were 16 reports of sexual assault by a stranger throughout Vancouver in July, compared to 10 in July 2020 and seven in July 2019.
Police say that, since July 1, there have been eight reported sexual assaults in the Granville Entertainment District alone.
The Hands Off! campaign was first launched in 2019 to raise awareness about unwanted sexual touching and inform potential offenders that groping is a crime, but in the wake of recent events, the campaign has been relaunched on social media.
"We know that offences against a person, specifically sexual offences, are vastly underreported," Const. Tania Visintin said.
"Our officers are very alive to the sensitivity around these types of files and will do anything they can to uphold the integrity of the survivor during the investigation."
Angela Marie MacDougall with Battered Women Support Services said they've seen an increase in reports of both domestic sexual violence and assaults by strangers. In fact, she said she and her staff have witnessed more of that behaviour first-hand.
"There appears to be something happening within the culture right now that could be in part due to the conditions that have been created as we've been managing and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic," she told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.
A mere five to 10 per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police, MacDougall said. The vast majority of incidents are reported to friends, family and community-based organizations working to end violence against women.
She believes that reinstating the 'Hands Off!' campaign is an important piece in preventing these types of crimes.
"Targeted approaches to men are actually necessary," she said.
"Sexualized violence, male violence against women and groping.... There are many men that do step out into the world each day and do that behaviour on public transportation, in the club scene. It's a well-established way of sexual violence that we continue to work to disrupt."
MacDougall said she's worked with colleagues across the country to develop a national action plan for addressing gender-based violence, which looks at social infrastructure, legal issues, prevention and support for survivors and their families, and she hopes the federal government will implement that plan. Without support from government leaders, she said, the task is up to community organizations like hers.
"We have to stay on this 24/7."
With files from The Early Edition