Calgary

Alberta sex-abuse support groups see #IBelieveYou success

The Alberta group behind an online campaign aimed at supporting survivors of sexual violence says September was a success in getting people talking about the #IBelieveYou message.

Campaign involves online and real-life initiatives to get people to talk

Madina Kanayeva with the Students Association of Mount Royal University said young people who are struggling after a sexual assault need to know it's OK for them to talk about it. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Albertans behind a campaign aimed at supporting survivors of sexual violence say September was a success in getting people talking about the #IBelieveYou message.

"People are really, really coming on board," said Debra Tomlinson of the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services. "After working in this field for 25 years, I'm delighted. It's time."

The basic idea behind the month-old initiative is sending the message that, if someone tells you they've been attacked, there are three words you should say in response: "I believe you."

Tomlinson said 97 per cent of sexual assault survivors don't report the attack to police and many don't even feel comfortable telling their close friends or family.

"Some go their entire lives without telling anybody, and that's not good," she said.

One in three girls and one in six boys will be victims of childhood sexual abuse, she added, and survivors often don't tell anyone about what happened until well into adulthood, if at all.

Social media reach

The #IBelieveYou hashtag was tweeted 1,786 times between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1, according to the analytical service Topsy.

Many of those tweets came from high-profile social-media users, reaching an estimated 517,000 people in total, according to Thunderclap, an online social-media amplification service used as part of the campaign.

Madina Kanayeva with the Students Association of Mount Royal University, which participated in the initiative on campus, said the message is an important one, especially for young people who are struggling after a sexual assault.

"To understand that it's OK to share a story that's so hard and so personal is kind of the first step in that survivor dealing with it and maybe feeling like they can get through this and it'll be OK," she said.

One in a series of video ads that make up part of the #IBelieveYou campaign:

Tomlinson believes things are reaching a tipping point of sorts and the silence that used to surround sexual violence in the past is starting to lift.

"I think it's a problem that has reached a point in our society where people are aware of how big the problem is, how harmful it is, and how many people it affects," she said.

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