PEI

Number of reported sexual assaults increasing on P.E.I.

The number of reported sexual assaults is up on P.E.I., but some experts say that increase may not mean there were more sexual assaults — but rather more people reporting them.

Could mean people becoming more comfortable going to police, experts say

Eileen Conboy, president of the board of the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, says an increase in the reporting of sexual assaults makes sense 'as we're building awareness around sexual violence continually.' (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

The number of reported sexual assaults is up on P.E.I., but some experts say that increase may not mean there were more sexual assaults — but rather more people reporting them.

Eileen Conboy, president of the board of the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, said that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"I was thinking that an increase in reports makes a lot of sense, as we're building awareness around sexual violence continually. Weaving it into our curriculums, weaving it into our university educations."

According to data released recently by Statistics Canada, 147 cases of sexual assault were reported to police on P.E.I. last year — up 21 per cent from 2020.

And it's not just on the Island. The number of reported sexual assaults across the country rose by 18 per cent.

Conboy said it doesn't necessarily mean more people were assaulted — it could mean people are less reluctant to tell police what had happened to them. 

"We're seeing an increase in recognition of sexualized violence in our communities," she said.

We know that not all victims of sexual assault report the crimes to police.​​​​— Jayelee Grady

Sexual violence still goes largely underreported, experts said, and there are probably many more cases that weren't reported to police last year.

"We know that not all victims of sexual assault report the crimes to police," said Jayelee Grady, manager of victim services for P.E.I.'s Department of Justice and Public Safety.

"So in some ways, it's encouraging to see more numbers going into police. I'm hoping that that means people are feeling a little more comfortable accessing resources and support."

Reporting to police

RCMP Sgt. Chris Gunn also hopes that is the case.

"I like to say people are getting more open about reporting crimes. They feel more open. The RCMP is also trying to promote that we are available to take anyone's complaint. It doesn't matter how old it is."

According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of sexual assault complaints on P.E.I. deemed to be "unfounded" — a classification that means police determined no crime took place — is about 20 per cent, which is also the highest in the country.

Both the RCMP and the Charlottetown police currently have a review process underway to determine if closed cases were handled properly.

With files from Kate McKenna

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