Sex assault reports up at Winnipeg counselling centre
More Winnipeg women visit counselling centre after sexual assaults, police reports stagnant
Winnipeg’s largest sexual assault crisis centre has seen an increase in women seeking counselling and support since the Jian Ghomeshi scandal broke – but police aren’t seeing more women reporting to them.
“We’ve noticed some increase – some noticeable increase with people coming forward and not necessarily wanting to report to police or those kinds of things,” said Lorraine Parrington, who co-ordinates the sexual assault crisis program at Klinic. “I think people are feeling more triggered by it and jarred by just the hearing other people’s stories.”
The prolonged and intense media attention on sexual assault has not only triggered memories for many survivors, but it’s also making people feel more safe about coming forward, Parrington said.
Multiple allegations against the former CBC host have drawn international attention and put victims of sexual assault in the spotlight.
- Jian Ghomeshi allegedly choked, beat N.B. woman with belt
- Toronto police investigating Jian Ghomeshi allegations
And instead of police, women are also turning to social media to share their stories.
The hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported now curates intimate details about some of the most difficult times in women’s lives – stories of isolation, shame, degradation and depression.
On Oct. 31, Winnipegger Holly Bausman, joined the movement, tweeting, “Date rape… He wanted my virginity. I said no. Repeatedly. He took it anyway. #BeenRapedNeverReported.”
‘I felt worthless, I blamed myself’
Bausman was sexually assaulted as a child, and when she was 16, she was raped in rural Manitoba.
“That was the one that messed me up the most out of all of them. That was something I was hanging onto -- I wanted to keep. I wanted to give that to someone I actually cared about. At 16 I wasn’t ready,” she said. “I felt worthless. I blamed myself, like ‘How did you let yourself get into that position?’”
“I did terrible things after it happened because I didn’t care about myself,” she said. “I really hated myself after. I really hated how I felt about losing that.”
She eventually took medication for her depression and saw a counsellor. Now, she works in radio, is in a relationship and works with horses – a therapy that works for her, she said.
More than 15 years after being attacked, Bausman said she finally felt ready to talk about it.
“[I was] sick of not talking about it. Seeing all the tweets come out was very inspirational. It was very powerful seeing as many women and men who were standing up saying #BeenRapedNeverReported and it was like, ‘Hey. That’s me, too,’” she said.
Immediately, she was scared.
“I actually sent out another tweet right after, and it says, ‘What’s my boss going to think?’ This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” she said.
“I had so many people tell me that it was a strong thing to do. I had so many people tell me that it was the right thing to do, and that it took courage and determination and they were proud of me for doing it,” said Bausman.
Still, she said, she has no plans to go to the police to pursue charges and completely understands why people don’t.
Det.-Sgt. Natalie Aitken also understands why women choose not to go to police.
“We do realize it’s very intrusive,” said Aitken. “The details that we need to ask them, to proceed with that investigation, to gain the evidence – we’re asking them some very pointed, very personal questions,” Aitken said, adding victims often have to relive their attacks repeatedly for police questioning and later on in court, which can be incredibly difficult.
No increase in sexual assault reports, police say
The Winnipeg Police Service hasn’t seen an uptick in women reporting sexual assaults since scandal broke in late October – but other police forces have, including one in Hamilton, Ont., and in Edmonton, calls to sexual assault crisis centre rose after the high profile stories broke.
I think people are seeing what the police have known for quite some time, and potentially prosecutors or people who work in the field – that this is something that happens- Det.-Sgt. Natalie Aitken of the Winnipeg Police Service
Aitken said Winnipeg police and other jurisdictions across North America are closely looking at how they can make it easier to support women through the process.
“We realize sexual assault – it’s so invasive on that person and it can be so traumatic for them,” she said. “We have dedicated officers, we have specialized officers who work in that unit and that’s all they do. They’re trained in retrieving the information that they need, making that victim feel comfortable.”
That means working closely with nurses and sexual assault counsellors to form a team of people who can step in and help a victim.
“We rely heavily on some very trained nurses and volunteers who have training specifically in the traumatic experiences [victims]might be going through,” said Aitken. “We hope that helps. We know obviously all that we’re doing, that’s not enough for people to want to come forward.”
Women have options when reporting, detective says
Aitken said victims need to know they have options when reporting to police.
Victims don’t always have to pursue charges, (except in cases where a child is involved or the incident involves an intimate partner) or file formal reports.
They can speak to officers and determine what’s best for them first, Aitken said.
At the end of the day, Aitken said, victims have to do what’s right for them. She thinks the social media movement is positive.
“I think it’s a positive thing,” she said. “I think people are seeing what the police have known for quite some time, and potentially prosecutors or people who work in the field – that this is something that happens. People tend not to report that for whatever reason.”
Aitken said people aren’t just connecting with other survivors, but also others who can help them.
“I think the movement that’s happening right now -- they’re getting the support from not only other victims from prosecutors, from officers, from different agencies,” she said.
What’s at stake when you report online
But revealing intimate details about an extremely traumatic experience in a public forum has its risks.
Aitken cautions about revealing details about perpetrators. She said it’s important to remember people do have a right to defend themselves and social media is not a substitute for a court of law.
“People are getting some messaging that it’s OK to tell [their stories], that they’re not to blame,” she said. “But I think on the other hand we’ve had a number of circumstances where the social media hasn’t been helpful.”
She said survivors need to ask themselves what they’re hoping to have happen if they open up, and be prepared for positive and negative feedback. Victim blaming, she said, has been a major problem on social media previously.
Susie Erjavec-Parker runs her own PR firm in Winnipeg, Sparker Strategy Group, and specializes in social media consulting. She said clients have already asked her about disclosing a sexual assault online.
Her advice? Know what the risks are and figure out what you’re comfortable sharing.
“What you do put on the web does live forever in terms of perpetuity,” she said. “Do you want that story to follow you into your next job? Into your next interview? Into your next career choice? That’s totally up to you. Some people are perfectly fine with owning that and having that be a part of their narrative,” said Erjavec-Parker.
Moving past isolation and shame
Despite the risks, Erjavec-Parker believes the movement has been incredibly important for survivors.
“What I think is important is that the people who have shared publicly have really had an outpouring of support and encouragement, and if you look at someone that you’ve been following online or admire online and going, ‘If she can tell her story and share it then maybe I can use my voice and share my story as well and it won’t be as scary as I thought it would be',” she said.
It’s not your fault. Quit blaming yourself. Talk to someone. Get it out and forgive yourself- Holly Bausman
For Bausman, that’s what it was all about – making women who feel isolated and ashamed by what someone did to them feel more comfortable talking about it and healing.
“I’m very happy I shared it. It’s been overwhelming at times,” she said. “I never did it to be in the lime light, I don’t really enjoy that, but at the same time I want people to know it can happen to you and you can overcome it.”
Bausman hopes her admission will help, in a small way, in making more women feel comfortable talking about what has happened to them.
“I want every girl who’s ever gone through it to know that: You can overcome it and there is help out there,” she said. “It’s not your fault. Quit blaming yourself. Talk to someone. Get it out and forgive yourself.”
Klinic's Sexual Assault Crisis Line is open 24 hours a day and can be reached at (204) 786-8631 or toll-free in Manitoba at 1-888-292-7565.