Sexual violence reports spiking, say Calgary police and advocacy group

Calgary organizations that investigate sex crimes and support survivors are seeing more people needing their services — and reporting violence that sometimes dates back decades.

#MeToo, other campaigns magnify voices, encourage survivors to step forward, police say

Calgary organizations involved with sexual violence investigations or support are seeing an increase in reports. (CBC News)

Calgary organizations that investigate sex crimes and support survivors are seeing more people needing their services — and more reports of violence dating back decades.

The organizations are attributing the rise in reporting to social media campaigns that support victims speaking out, specifically #MeToo and Alberta's #IBelieveYou, as well as news of prominent alleged abusers losing their jobs and police promises to review complaints of assault previously deemed "unfounded."

"This year, we have certainly seen a spike, and I think if you look globally, across Canada and the U.S., you see a culture change with regards to people reporting acts of sexual violence," Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker of the Calgary Police Service told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday morning.

"I think people are becoming more comfortable in sharing any experiences with regards to sexual violence."

Today, Calgary police are getting daily reports of historical sexual assaults — some date back 35 or 40 years, he said.

So far this year, the sex crimes unit, which looks at serious allegations, has 368 cases open, compared with 298 in 2016. That's an almost 25 per cent jump.

'Prevalent in all communities'

He believes this higher case load — which is straining his investigators — will be the new normal.

"When you look at the #MeToo campaign, more locally you look at the #IBelieveYou campaign, I really think that you have the community that's understanding or beginning to understand that ... sexual violence is prevalent in all communities," Walker said.

"I would like to think people are more comfortable, becoming more comfortable with reporting."

Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker said the Calgary Police Service is looking to improve the way it handles sexual assault cases. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Demand for counselling from Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse has gone up, as well, executive director Danielle Aubry said.

"It really has been an explosion of awareness, and, dare I say, potentially it is now changing social norms about how people think about this issue," Aubry said. "I hope that that's what we're seeing."

Danielle Aubry, executive director of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse , says more survivors of sexual violence are requesting counselling services. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Calgary police meet regularly with Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, Walker said, and discuss the rising workload. His team of eight investigators, plus three assigned to cold cases, are finding they need more resources — or more colleagues — to ensure cases are investigated in a timely manner.

'Still a level of distrust'

Calgary police had an independent panel review sexual assault complaints that were closed by police and deemed "unfounded," a trend revealed by a Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year.

Calgary police had classified about 10 per cent of complaints as unfounded, despite academic research suggesting the false-reporting rate is only two to eight per cent.

"I think there is still a level of distrust probably [of] the police and the judicial system," Walker said.

"We need to start discussing the fact that sexual violence is very prevalent in society. I think with the education and the discussion amongst the family, within the community, I think you'll see a very positive change."

With files from Falice Chin and the Calgary Eyeopener