#MeToo movement spurs small uptick in Sask. police-reported sexual assaults

A study by Statistics Canada saw an increase in police-reported sexual assaults in the months immediately following the viral #MeToo movement. Saskatchewan saw a one per cent increase, the lowest of any province.

City numbers went up more than province as a whole

Saskatchewan saw an overall increase in increased police-reported sexual assaults of one per cent in the wake of the #MeToo movement. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The number of sexual assaults reported by police increased across Canada after the #MeToo movement went viral, but Saskatchewan saw the smallest uptick of any province, according to data from Statistics Canada.

The average national increase in reporting was 24 per cent for the time period of October to December 2017. Saskatchewan only showed an increase of about one per cent.​

"Historically we know that reporting rates in Saskatchewan ​have been low," said Kerri Isaac, executive director of Saskatchewan Sexual Assault Services (SASS).

She said there are a wide array of barriers, such as victim blaming, a lengthy court process, a lack of inclusive services, fear or previous negative experience with law enforcement. ​

"When we speak to the Me Too movement, it's raised awareness in profile of sexual violence but has not addressed those barriers in reporting to law enforcement." 

Saskatchewan's two major cities saw increases in reporting in line with other cities of their size. Reports increased by 14 per cent in Saskatoon and 10 per cent in Regina.

Isaac said #MeToo created a notable increase in survivors seeking help from counsellors and other community workers. She said the ten member agencies of SASS across Saskatchewan saw "dramatic increases" in demand.

A study by Statistics Canada saw an increase in sexual assaults reported by police after the #MeToo movement. Saskatchewan only saw a one per cent increase. (Statistics Canada)

Province without a provincial strategy

"We can't directly attribute things, but other provinces across Canada have focused effort and funding on sexual assault action plans," said Faye Davis, executive director of the Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre, in regards to the one per cent provincial growth.

She said other provinces have had provincial strategies in place for years, allowing for targeted education, public campaigns and collective goals.

"In Saskatchewan, we don't have a plan like that and we haven't had a government initiative specific on sexual assault."

She said a provincial plan could ensure that a sexual assault survivor is referred to the appropriate supports, regardless of where they initially seek support.

SASS and its partners are working on a provincial plan. ​Isaac said the organization is in its second year of creating its ​Saskatchewan Sexual Violence Action Plan. It's scheduled to be complete in 2019.

"We hope if we do the groundwork and then release it that then there can be action taken because we've laid it all out," Davis said.

She's concerned the services recommended in the plan will not have enough money directed to them.

She said funding issues already exist and that's been felt by support centres and law enforcement in the wake of the #MeToo movement. 

"The demand for our services increased but our resources have dragged behind." 

Davis said the waitlist for support at the Saskatoon Sexual Assault centre is about four to five weeks. She said they will do their best to get someone in if it's an emergency, but the situation is problematic.

"When they call, that bravery has to be answered with service," she said. 

"We're very limited — the sexual assault centres — with what we can do with the funding that we have, but a province could take a very well-coordinated, very well-funded action that could make a huge difference."

Government officials are " participating on a Sexual Violence Action Plan Advisory Committee, led by Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS), to develop partnerships, provide support and feedback to prevent and reduce sexual violence in Saskatchewan," according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice. 

The spokesperson said no decisions have been made regarding funding for additional programming in the upcoming budget.

They added the government "provides $1.2 million annually to seven Sexual Assault Service programs across Saskatchewan." 

Isaac also said there's not enough funding support. 

She said the systems need to be addressed, but so does the culture in the province. 

"Without changing those attitudes and beliefs you can just keep throwing money at something and it will never change."