Editor’s note: This article is the first of a series looking at the challenges faced by those tasked with supporting survivors of sexual violence. This first article looks at the problem as a whole; subsequent articles in the series will look at individual components.
According to statistics provided by the Alberta RCMP, there were just over 2,900 reports of sexual violence in the province in 2022 alone.
While the number is a subtle decrease from the over 3,000 complaints reported in 2021, it is still an increase above the average of 2,500 pre-pandemic.
Those are just the numbers that are reported.
According to information provided by the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Centres (AASAC), only about six per cent of assaults are reported.
“People don’t want to relive what they went through,” said Coronation RCMP Sgt. John Pike.
While RCMP statistics don’t necessarily tell the whole story, the wait times for counselling in places like Stettler’s Association of Communities Against Abuse (ACAA) help fill in some of the information gaps for how prevalent the issue is today; according to Stettler ACAA director Stephanie Hadley, since the pandemic ended, wait times for services have escalated.
Current wait times in Stettler and area for assault-related counselling is currently in the range of 24 to 32 weeks, or six to eight months. According to Hadley, in urban centres such as Calgary or Edmonton, the waits are even longer.
“At the end of the day, everyone is waiting,” said Hadley, in a recent interview.
According to Hadley, those left to wait can face increased struggles with addictions, suicide, homelessness and domestic violence.
Results of a 2020 survey highlight how big the potential problem of sexual violence is in Alberta; the survey results provided by AASAC report that up to 43 per cent of 1,500 respondents have experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime.
Putting that 43 per cent across the provincial population of just over four million people, as many as 1.8 million Albertans may have suffered sexual assault or abuse in their lifetime.
Added to the human cost is the economic cost. An estimate released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013 puts the economic cost of sexual assault at $1.9 billion once treatment, lost productivity, and a host of other factors were considered.
“All Albertans should have access to services, but that is not the case,” Hadley said.
AASAC has put forward a presentation to the Government of Alberta looking at how services for sexual assault survivors can be improved. The presentation included four different areas where increased funding could benefit those helping survivors provide services.
First, there is the need to increase the availability of “timely, specialized counselling.”
Second, create a support system for those with complex needs while also reducing wait times, with a focus on system navigation, creating safety and stability in the environment, and preparation for counselling, all with the end goal of reducing time in therapy once it is started.
Third, enhance specialized support for those who want to seek justice within the legal system.
And fourth, do more to protect children and youth and engage men and boys.
Part two of this continuing series will look into funding for these services and existing supports.