You’ve been sexually assaulted. You’re terrified and humiliated and you assume no one will believe you if you tell them. So you don’t call police.
Your response isn’t unusual. It’s a common scenario. Nine out of 10 women who are sexually assaulted in Canada each year will not report it to police.
There reasons are plentiful. The majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, so there may be complicated relationship or family issues. Some victims fear retaliation from their attackers if they speak up, while others have dealt with the justice system before and have little faith they’ll be taken seriously. If an assault involved drugs or alcohol, a woman may not even realize she’s been victimized.
And of course, there’s the overwhelming feeling of shame. Most women just want to forget it ever happened.
“There’s nothing that ends a conversation more quickly than ‘I’ve been sexually assaulted.’ It’s just not something in society that we talk about,” says Nancy Drewery, a community leader with the Surrey Women’s Centre’s (SWC) Surrey Mobile Assault Response Team. “Sexual assault is invisible.”
A new campaign from the women’s centre aims to let victims know it’s okay to come forward. And they can do it anonymously.
Even if a victim is too afraid to report an assault to police, they can talk to a community-based victim services worker without identifying themselves.
The program is called Connect the Dots and involves a partnership with six other community-based victim services programs in Langley, Maple Ridge, Tri-Cities, Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack.
According to Drewery, so-called Third Party Reporting – an existing provincial policy allowing victims to make a report without giving their names – is simply not well known to women or police.
Community workers can collect an array of information from someone who has been assaulted and pass that information on to police investigators, who can establish if there are any similarities or patterns between attacks or attackers.
Seemingly small details – like whether a perpetrator had coarse hair or a unique tattoo or did or said something unusual – can end up being valuable information that can help identify an offender.
“This isn’t about investigation,” said Drewery. “It’s about intelligence collecting. It’s really about being able to catch serial predators by having MOs (modus operandi) that eventually, over time, potentially match.”
Anonymous reports are only available for crimes involving sexual offences and women must be 19 or older.
Drewery said often, once a woman begins to open up anonymously and myths about reporting sex assault are shattered, they’ll feel more comfortable and take the next step and file a police report.
To learn more about anonymous sexual assault reporting, call their local community-based victim services program. To contact Surrey Women’s Centre, call 604-583-1295.