Less than one-third of the sexual violence primary survivors in Saskatchewan who took part in a new study made a formal incident report to police. Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS), the University of Saskatchewan Community-University Institute for Social Research (CUISU) and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) teamed up to research the state of sexual violence in the province.
Survivors of sexual violence that had previously been affiliated with SASS member-organizations were interviewed and surveyed. The results of the study are not representative of Saskatchewan's general population, but Dr. Isobel Findlay, co-director at CUISU, said the research team aimed to reflect the diversity of the province. In the study, the term sexual violence covers sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault. Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of sexual victimization in Canada, according to the team's research.
Of all services used by the survivors in the study, law enforcement services earned the lowest satisfaction rate, with 39 per cent.
When interviewed by SASS and CUISU research teams, survivors and service providers shared multiple reasons for why survivors often do not choose to report incidents to police. The reasons are largely based in the fear of not being believed, of being blamed for the assault and shamed and embarrassed, or fear of retaliation from the perpetrator.
According to the study, many of the survivors interviewed or surveyed did not trust law enforcement to handle sexual violence cases. They also feared the criminal court process. Only 24 per cent of primary sexual violence survivors in the study made a formal report to police.
"One survivor said, 'If I could go back and change anything, I would never have reported my assault. If I get raped 100 times in this life time, 100 rapists will walk free, because the damage caused by the justice system is just as bad if not worse,'" said Dr. Marie Lovrod, program chair of women's and gender studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
The study indicates that women represented the vast majority of sexual violence victims in the province, at 88 per cent. More than half of all those who experienced it first-hand were between the ages of 13 and 24 when it happened.
Survivors under the age of 18 years were most likely to be assaulted by someone they knew such as family
member, an acquaintance or a friend. The assaults most often happened in homes and schools of the survivors.
Findlay said the research team hopes the study will encourage change in the way services like law enforcement and the courts deal with sexual violence cases.
"One of the challenges in this area is the persistent silence — the discomfort with talking about these issues, about unpacking the stories we tell ourselves," said Findlay.
"In the justice system, seeing is believing ... the problem is seeing is never neutral. We see what we expect to see. We don't see what we don't want to see. These are among the biggest challenges that we have." Lovrod is calling for increased education around sexual violence, victims and perpetrators.
"It's really important to understand the cultures of perpetration," said Lovrod."That perpetrators are sometimes themselves survivors, that we have a long history in Saskatchewan of colonization, of institutions reinforcing different kinds of violence which make people reluctant to come forward."
*Click HERE to read the full results of the study*
Published on: April 29th, 2020