Sex crime spike in Calgary spurs more help for victims
Additional officers, counsellors, professionals hired to assist as more Calgarians report sex offences
Police are adding more investigators to their sex crimes unit as the number of Calgarians coming forward to report abuse increases — on average more than three victims a day have been reporting a sexual offence in the city so far this year.
The most recent statistics to the end of July show 767 people have contacted police to report a sex crime had been committed against them, an 11 per cent increase over the same seven-month period last year, and a 30 per cent rise over 2016.
"The investigators in the unit are certainly feeling the extra pressure of the files," said Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker, head of the sex crimes unit.
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Four more investigators are in the process of being added to the unit, bringing the total to 14. But when you include Walker and a crime analyst, the total will be 16.
Two of the investigators focus specifically on cold cases that date back 30, 40, even 50 years.
The offences range in severity, from an unwanted touch to a sexual attack involving a weapon or injury, to a victim who was unable to consent.
Walker says the #MeToo movement is likely one of the reasons more victims are speaking out.
"I think with that people are now probably feeling more supported, and the fact that we're dealing with sexual violence as a whole in the community, and people are feeling more comfortable coming forward," he said.
Agencies are also beefing up their counselling and support teams to help victims.
Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse is in the process of hiring four counsellors and a court support worker.
"We are always wanting to have enough resources to ensure that people get the services they need when they need to because that's such an important aspect of healing," said Laurie Siembida, the clinical program director at the agency.
The agency provides up to 18 counselling sessions for mostly adult victims, but some of their clients are as young as 12. It also provides police and court support.
But the demand is straining resources and not everyone is able to access services right away. The current wait time is between six and eight months.
"We are very concerned about our wait list, we have been for a long time," she said. Siembida says the wait list is coming down — she says it used to be 10 months.
Alberta Health Services hired an additional registered nurse to join the Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team (CSART) this year. The team is available around the clock and provides medical and other services for people who are recent victims of sexual assault — defined as an offence that happened within the past four days.
Last year, the agency helped 374 people, up slightly from 343 the year before. To the end of July this year, 215 victims received support. The victims range in age from children to seniors.
"We're happy people are coming forward and coming in for medical care, and coming forward to see our team because we are able to provide all the supports that they need and choices for care," said Meg Sloane, the manager of CSART.
She's not sure why there have been more cases in the past few years, but she feels victims are gaining more courage to come forward and the guilt and shame that some victims have felt in the past is diminishing.
"People realize 'something has happened to me and it's not OK,' and they come forward for support," she said.
Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse is concerned about the wait list and hopes people are not discouraged by it.
"What I would say to people who have been victimized is that you have the right to access services and that we are doing everything we can to ensure this wait list is going down and it is," said Siembida.
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.