More survivors coming forward to report sex assaults after #MeToo movement

Winnipeg police and crisis workers are seeing a rise in the number of reports of sex crimes in recent months and believe the heightened awareness of the Me Too and Times Up movements could be playing a role in the number of survivors coming forward.

During height of campaign last fall, reports to Winnipeg police rose 142%

Women are posting 'me too' on social media to indicate they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

Winnipeg police and support workers are seeing a rise in the number of reports of sex crimes in recent months and believe the heightened awareness of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements could be getting more survivors to come forward.

"I think people are more aware and more interested in moving forward on issues when they've encountered them," Nicole Chammartin told CBC News. "We're really learning a lot about the nature of sexual violence in our community and how much of an impact it has."

The executive director of Klinic Community Health, which provides counselling and a 24-hour sexual assault crisis line, said there has been a slight jump in the number of sexual assault reports to the centre over the last month.

"We're still watching those numbers to see whether it's an ongoing trend," she said. "But we're definitely seeing an uptick."

The increase Winnipeg police are seeing, meanwhile, is significant. 

Police see 36% spike in reports

The Sex Crime Unit, which investigates all sexual offences, was tasked with 505 new investigations in 2017 — a 36 per cent increase over the year before.

Between October and December last year the unit was assigned 165 new investigations — a 142 per cent increase over the year before. That coincides with when the #MeToo movement became a global phenomenon on social media.

Police believe heightened awareness of sexual assault and more public figures coming forward could be contributing to the number of victims reporting crimes, but a spokesperson acknowledged there may be other factors at play. For example, the mandate of the Sex Crimes Unit expanded in the spring of 2017 to investigate all sexual offences. Prior to the change, general patrol officers sometimes handled indecent acts, groping or domestic sexual assault reports, a spokesperson said.

Last fall, a Statistics Canada report drew attention to severe under-reporting of sexual assault crimes nationwide

"Sexual assault is the most under-reported violent crime in Canada," the report stated. While estimating the number of incidents that go unreported is unavoidably imprecise, the report cited 95% as a possible number. "It must be understood that any analysis of sexual assault that is based exclusively on crimes reported by police represents a fraction of the true extent of sexual assaults in Canada."

Winnipeg police and support workers are seeing a rise in the number of reports of sex crimes in recent months and believe the heightened awareness of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements could be getting more survivors to come forward. 1:45

Increase in calls for policy advice, education​

Chammartin said heightened awareness around sexual harassment and violence is also having an effect on Winnipeg workplaces. Klinic is seeing an increase in the number of weekly calls from organizations requesting education and advice related to sexual harassment.

"Definitely an increase in terms of workplaces talking more about sexual harassment policies and procedures and their own reporting system and workplace culture," she said. "Folks are trying to be proactive, which I greatly appreciate, in terms of being better able to understand what's happening."

Chammartin said she hopes the shift in culture and awareness continues.

"I think it's really important to remember not everyone feels safe and able to disclose or report their sexual assault or sexual violence experiences but I think it's encouraging that hopefully more people do." 

While the latest numbers from Winnipeg police show reports are continuing to increase compared to last year, the difference is not as stark as it was in the fall. In January-March 31, 2017, 83 new investigations of sexual assault began. So far in 2018, almost 90 reports have been filed.

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