Steps away from sexual assault

Ryan Jones
By Ryan Jones January 26, 2018 13:47

By Ryan Jones

With the Times Up and #Metoo movements gaining traction, people are feeling more confident sharing their stories of sexual assault.

The criminal code defines sexual assault “as an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years or, if the complainant is under the age of 16 years, to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year.”

Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), is a program of Mental Health Partners that helps sexual assault victims. According to MESA there are three main types of sexual assault: blitz, contact and home invasion. Blitz is when someone assaults another person without having previous interaction. Contact is when a person gains another person’s trust and will then assault them. Home invasion is when a stranger breaks into someone’s house to commit assault.

In 2014, Statistics Canada released results on self-reported sexual assault. According to the General Social Survey on Canadian’s Safety (Victimization), there were a total of 22 sexual assault incidents for every 1000 Canadians aged 15 and older. Statistics Canada stated people who are most commonly targeted by sexual assault are “women, young, Aboriginal, single, homosexual or bisexual and those who had poorer mental health.”

The City of Windsor offers a variety of support groups and programs for people affected by sexual assault.

Windsor Police Services have taken steps forward in combating the issue of sexual assault in the city.

Sergeant Steve Betteridge, public information officer with Windsor Police Services said sexual assault is taken seriously by the WPS. He said there is a new method of reporting that has recently been implemented for sexual assault victims.

“Most recently, we have something on our website now where someone can report sexual assault anonymously. It starts the first step forward because a lot of times victims can be concerned about coming forward. Now they can reach out and we can set up an investigation,” said Betteridge.

WPS publishes a Yearly Time Clock which outlines the city’s crime statistics. According to the Time Clock there were a total of 164 sexual assault cases in Windsor for 2016. Betteridge said even minor cases are taken into consideration.

“There’s no reason to be afraid. Professional help is available,” said Betteridge.

Aside from the WPS, the Sexual Assault centre in Windsor has services available for victims. The centre operates a 24-hour crisis line and provides specialized counselling for victims and those who support them, group counselling and public services.

Executive director of the Crisis Centre, Lydia Fiorini, said the centre sees about 1000 cases annually. People are coming into the Crisis Centre seeking help.

“We would do any work specific to what is happening in their lives,” said Fiorini.

The Crisis Centre offers programs for young children to help them understand what steps to take if they were to become a victim of sexual assault in the future. The Crisis Centre also works alongside Windsor Police to help with responding to victims and to see which methods are working and which are not.

Victims seeking help through the Crisis Centre have the opportunity to receive specialized counselling with a social worker. The Crisis Centre is working towards helping people understand the impact of sexual victimization.

“The very first thing you want to do is normalize their reactions and assist them with whatever is happening in terms of coping,” said Fiorini.

Fiorini said victims experience PTSD,  an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event. The social workers will help victims understand their PTSD is normal, given what they have experienced and help manage their symptoms. Most of what social workers hear from the victims are the questions “What is it that I did?” or “What did I do that contributed to this happening to me?” Fiorini said the victims have also said they are hypervillgent, always afraid and are unable to focus or concentrate.

“The reality is that they [the victims] did not do anything – it was the offender who chose to abuse them,” said Fiorini.

Despite encouragement from support groups and police, people still find it difficult to come forward with their sexual assault experience. According to the report, there are many reasons why assault goes unreported. These reasons include fear of reprisal, personal issues or they feel it is not important enough to report. Some believe the police will not do anything to help, some do not want the offender to get in trouble with the law, there may not enough proof or  people do not know how to report their assault.

Sexual assault does not only occur on the streets and in homes. According to Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, CFS, one in five women will be affected by sexual assault in their post-secondary education. CFS also states that as of November. 2014, only nine out of 102 Canadian post-secondary institutions have sexual assault policies and many sexual assault cases on campus happen within the first eight weeks of the school year.

The University of Windsor is not one of the nine.

Dusty Johnstone, a sexual misconduct response & prevention officer at the University of Windsor, said sexual assault is any form of unwanted sexual contact that occurs when someone does not have the capacity to give voluntary consent. This can be because of force, threat or because they are too intoxicated.

Johnstone provides support to anyone on campus who has experienced sexual misconduct recently. By emotional support, connecting them with other resources and helping them file a complaint either to the university or police.

“In the fall semester I saw approximately 30 individuals, the majority of whom were women,” said Johnstone.

He also said people who experience sexual assault have experienced it more than once.

“I see people with a wide range of experience, and it isn’t always physical. I also see people who have experienced verbal sexual harassment or other forms of non-physical sexual misconduct,” said Johnstone.

The University of Windsor has two educational programs that target sexual violence on campus. The first is the Bystander Initiative which focuses on changing the attitudes and behaviours that encourage sexual assaults to occur.

Johnstone said this program, which is delivered as a three-hour workshop, teaches students how to recognize sexual violence and step in and intervene in situations that could lead to violence.

The second program is called Flip the Script which looks at rape resistance for young women on and off campus. The program teaches women to overcome the emotional barriers that prevent them from fighting back and strategies for fighting back.

“Our long term goal on campus is to change the culture and make sexual violence socially unacceptable. We believe that everyone has a role in changing the culture and being an active bystander,” said Johnstone.

Dr. Charlene Y. Senn is a professor in the applied social psychology graduate program within the Department of Psychology at the university. Senn said she centres her research around male violence against women with a deeper focus on sexual violence and campus interventions.

For over 10 years, Senn has developed and evaluated a sexual assault resistance education program for women in their first year of university. She said the program was demonstrated recently in a CIHR-funded randomized controlled trial. The result showed rape was reduced by almost 50 per cent in women who took the intervention.

Senn is also the co-founder of and researcher for the UWindsor Bystander Initiative program.

“Bystander programs are effective in increasing students confidence that they could intervene if they saw a situation requiring it and that it would make a difference, decreasing the barriers to taking action that they might have previously experienced, and increasing their bystander behaviour,” said Senn.

Senn is currently conducting a 10-year study to identify changes on campus, expecting the study to be completed by 2020.  

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault there are many programs to help, especially in the city of Windsor.

Ryan Jones
By Ryan Jones January 26, 2018 13:47

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