For my investigative journalism, I would like to investigate an issue that in my opinion does not, and has not, received enough attention locally, nationally, or globally. Every year thousands of people worldwide are victims of sexual assault. These victims can be female or male, young or old, and of any ethnicity or race. Despite this fact, sexual assault victims still struggle to be heard, not just in the courts, but also among friends and family. For my investigative journalism, I would like to raise awareness of sexual assault and understand, in thorough detail, why sexual assault victims not only are unable to be heard but why they are afraid or unwilling to let their voice be heard. While the awareness of sexual assault is growing, and plenty or research has and is being done, we can always do more. My paper will differ from those already done because I will question specific people and institutions in the Edmonton and the Sherwood Park area. While my paper will focus on the Edmonton and Sherwood Park area, I will use resources, data, statistics and examples from worldwide cases that provoke questions or answers.
Edmonton Police Services say, “sexual assault is defined as an assault of a sexual nature that violates the sexual integrity of the victim. The Supreme Court of Canada held that the act of sexual assault does not depend solely on contact with any specific part of the human anatomy but rather the act of a sexual nature that violates the sexual integrity of the victim. When investigating a sexual assault, there are certain relevant factors to consider:
- The part of the body touched
- The nature of the contact
- The situation in which the contact occurred
- The words and gestures accompanying the act
- All other circumstances surrounding the act
- Any threats that may or may not be accompanied by force
The victim of the sexual assault can be man or woman and the attacker can be of the same sex as the victim. A spouse may be charged with sexual assault upon the other spouse” (Edmonton Police Services, “What is sexual assault?”)
According to RAINN “sexual assault can take many different forms, but one thing remains the same: it’s never the victim’s fault.
Sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:
- Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
- Attempted rape
- Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Force doesn’t always refer to physical pressure. Perpetrators may use emotional coercion, psychological force, or manipulation to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex. Some perpetrators will use threats to force a victim to comply, such as threatening to hurt the victim or their family or other intimidation tactics.
The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately 3 out of 4 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape.
The term “date rape” is sometimes used to refer to acquaintance rape. Perpetrators of acquaintance rape might be a date, but they could also be a classmate, a neighbor, a friend’s significant other, or any number of different roles. It’s important to remember that dating, instances of past intimacy, or other acts like kissing do not give someone consent for increased or continued sexual contact.
In other instances, the victim may not know the perpetrator at all. This type of sexual violence is sometimes referred to as stranger rape. Stranger rape can occur in several different ways:
- Blitz sexual assault: when a perpetrator quickly and brutally assaults the victim with no prior contact, usually at night in a public place
- Home invasion sexual assault: when a stranger breaks into the victim’s home to commit the assault
- Contact sexual assault: when a perpetrator contacts the victim and tries to gain their trust by flirting, luring the victim to their car, or otherwise trying to coerce the victim into a situation where the sexual assault will occur
Survivors of both stranger rape and acquaintance rape often blame themselves for behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. It’s important to remember that the victim is a never to blame for the actions of a perpetrator,” (RAINN, “Sexual assault”).
It is estimated that one in four women in North America will become a victim of sexual assault at some point in their lives (Sex Assault, “Sexual assault statistics in Canada”).
According to Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, based on Alberta’s population, there are about 7000 assaults per month in Alberta (Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, “I believe you”).
Research published by MacLean’s in 2010 found that Edmonton was the 44 most dangerous cities in Canada for potential sexual assault victims, while Sherwood Park was 80. (Maclean’s, “Canada’s most dangerous cities: Sexual assault”).
According to an article published by CBC in 2014, there are roughly 800 assaults reported to Edmonton Police annually. This same article mentions that only 10-15 per cent of sexual assaults are actually reported to police, meaning there could be an estimated 8,000-12,000 sexual assaults in Edmonton alone every year (CBC, “Sexual assault rate continues to climb in Edmonton”).
RAINN found that 334 of every 1,000 rapes, or 33.4 per cent, are reported to police (RAINN, “The Criminal Justice System: Statistics”).
Similarly, the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services found that 97 per cent of all sexual assault is left unreported, with many victims never telling a single-family member or friend (Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, “I believe you”).
While the number of unreported sexual assault cases is almost impossible to know because as mentioned, some people never tell a single family member, the fact that at best only 33.4 per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police is alarming and concerning. Why are individuals unwilling or unable to report to police their struggles with sexual assault?
One reason could be that according to RAINN 99.4 per cent of all sexual assault cases end with the perpetrator walking free, receiving no punishment. This could be discouraging for people, wondering what the purpose of reporting their sexual assault is if it is unlikely to result in any type of legal action taking place.
“Of the sexual violence crimes reported to police from 2005-2010, the survivor reporting gave the following reasons for doing so:
28% to protect the household or victim from further crimes by the offender
25% to stop the incident or prevent recurrence or escalation
21% to improve police surveillance or they believed they had a duty to do so
17% to catch/punish/prevent offender from reoffending
6% gave a different answer or declined to cite one reason
3% did so to get help or recover loss
Of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, the victim gave the following reasons for not reporting:
20% feared retaliation
13% believed the police would not do anything to help
13% believed it was a personal matter
8% reported to a different official
8% believed it was not important enough to report
7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
2% believed the police could not do anything to help
30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason” (RAINN, “The Criminal Justice System: Statistics”).
Of the 344/1,000 cases reported to police, 63 lead to an arrest. That means that only 18 per cent of reported assaults lead to an arrest, and only 6.3 per cent of all assaults result in an arrest.
Of those 63 arrests, only 13 cases will be referred to prosecutors (1.3% of all assaults, 3.8% of reported assaults, and 20.6% of assaults that resulted in an arrest).
It is not until cases reach prosecution that we see any results of ‘success.’ Of the 13 arrests, 7 will lead to a felony conviction (0.7% of all assaults, 2% of reported assaults, 11.1% of assaults that resulted in an arrest, and 53.8% off assaults reaching prosecution).
Of the 7 felony convictions, 6 will offenders will be incarcerated (0.6% of all assaults, 1.7% of reported assaults, 9.5% of assaults that resulted in arrest, 46.2% of assaults reaching prosecution, and 85.7% which lead to a felony conviction), (RAINN, “The Criminal Justice System: Statistics”).
While obviously there is nothing the legal system can do about unreported assaults, these numbers are still sickening and embarrassing to the United States of America’s legal system. Seeing these numbers, I would like to investigate to see how these numbers compare and match up with that of Canada, specifically Edmonton. Although I have yet to find any statistical data, I believe we will see very similar numbers as those of the above case.
The number that stands out to me is that only 1.7% of reported sexual assaults will lead to the offender receiving any jail time. One of the main purposes of this investigative journalism paper for me is to understand why? Is it due to a lack of evidence? Are victims making these sexual assault allegations up?
The quick answer to this question is that it must be the legal system itself and/or the lack of evidence. Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports (Sex Assault, “Sexual assault statistics in Canada”). So if 96-98% of victims are telling the truth, why are fewer than 2% of offenders receiving jail time?
I am also interested in once offenders are sentenced to jail time, what type of punishment are they actually receiving.
Recently making headlines in the United States was a case in which a judge was lenient on a sexual offender. After being convicted of sexually assaulting a 23-year-old female, Stanford rapist Brock Turner, 20, was sentenced to six months incarceration, including private holding. After just three months, he was released due to good behaviour.
The case famously received backlash from millions after the leniency in which the case was handled (Associated Press, “Stanford rapist Brock Turner faces extra probation requirements”).
In one instance, a Canadian judge is facing removal after essentially blaming a rape victim. The judge acquitted the man accused of raping a young female, believe the offender’s story was more believable and the victim could have done more to prevent it (Associated Press in Calgary, “Canadian judge to rape accuser: Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”).
After seeing instances like this I would like to talk to both police services and if possible, a provincial or federal judge to understand why sexual assault is either treated lightly or even if taken seriously, why victims rarely win cases. I would hope that by talking to an RCMP officer in Sherwood Park I could understand the legal process, and making come to grips with why they struggle to make arrests. One known problem with sexual assault is that it is often not witnessed by more than the people involved, putting one person’s word against another, leaving it difficult to convict an offender.
What I believe I will actually find, is an unjust legal process, which blames victims and takes the side of offenders. While awareness of sexual assault is improving, we still often live in a world that not only does not take sexual assault seriously enough but blames the victims and looks for excuses about why the offender did what they did.
Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services is now running a campaign called I Believe You, noting that the most important part of sexual assault cases is to believe the victim, offer support, and don’t ask questions or place blame on the victims. “After generations of minimizing or justifying sexual assault, public sentiment is shifting dramatically toward believing as a first step. That’s important because when survivors feel safe to tell, they’re more likely to get help and seek justice and make our communities healthier and safer for everyone.
The campaign is a partnership between the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) and the Government of Alberta, Ministry of Human Services” (Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, “I believe you”).
“One of the most effective threats assailants can make against victims is to warn them to keep quiet “because no one will believe you.” This is a lie that we are addressing head on.
Responders are often afraid of saying the wrong thing, and creating more harm with their words. Most will try to give advice (get help) or ask questions (tell me what happened). But a positive response is most helpful. Try saying I’m sorry that happened, it’s not your fault, and I believe you—the three words survivors most need to hear.
When we start by believing, due diligence can happen. Believing is the first step, but it’s not the only step” (Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, “I believe you”).
Along with talking to police and other legal officials, I am interested in talking to sexual assault centres and victims in the Edmonton area to understand why certain decisions are made, and if they believe, the legal process needs to change.
While there has been research conducted on why victims don’t report their assaults, hopefully by speaking to victims, I can gather more in-depth research, rather than statistics. Based on the above Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services campaign, I believe a large reason sexual assault goes unreported is a lack of belief by police services, family friends, or anyone else.
I hope this paper can successfully raise sexual assault awareness and not only answer questions about sexual assault but ask some too.
Associated Press. Stanford rapist Brock Turner faces extra probation requirements, NBC News, July 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/stanford-rapist-brock-turner-faces-extra-probation-requirements-n609071. Accessed 21, Sept. 2016.
Associated Press in Calgary. Canadian judge to rape accuser: Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?, The Guardian, Sept. 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/10/canadian-judge-to-accuser-why-couldnt-you-just-keep-your-knees-together. Accessed 21, Sept. 2016.
Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services. I believe you. https://aasas.ca/initiatives/i-believe-you/. Accessed 20, Sept. 2016.
CBC. Sexual assault rate continues to climb in Edmonton, CBC News Edmonton, Nov. 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sexual-assault-rate-continues-to-climb-in-edmonton-1.2841179. Accessed 20, Sept. 2016.
Edmonton Police Services. What is sexual assault? http://www.edmontonpolice.ca/CommunityPolicing/PersonalPropertyCrimes/SexualAssault/WhatisSexualAssault.aspx. Accessed 21, Sept. 2016.
Griwkowsky, C. Strong sexual assault stigma, Sherwood Park News, 2009 http://www.sherwoodparknews.com/2009/05/01/strong-sexual-assault-stigma. Accessed 20, Sept. 2016.
MacLean’s. Canada’s most dangerous cities: Sexual assault. Oct. 2010, http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/sexual-assault/. Accessed 20, Sept. 2016.
RAINN. The Criminal Justice System: Statistics. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system. Accessed 20, Sept. 2016.
RAINN. Sexual assault. https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault. Accessed 21, Sept. 2016.
Sex Assault. Sexual assault statistics in Canada. http://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm. Accessed 20, Sept. 2016.
I am choosing to investigate this area, because as I explained in my above proposal, this area does not receive nearly enough media attention. As proved by the statistics above, sexual assault across the world is not taken seriously enough. Sexual assault is a very serious crime that drastically affects the lives of those affected, however not enough is done to protect and help victims before or after they are assaulted. There is still a very negative stigma around sexual assault in the fact that people often blame the victim for their actions, saying they asked for it or deserved it. This is never the case. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, regardless of their actions leading up to the assault. Many people also believe that sexual assault always occurs by a man sexually assaulting a woman, using force. While many sexual assault cases are like this, many are not. We often believe that movies accurately portray sexual assault. Again, sometimes they do, but often this is not the case. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, sexuality or race, and can be committed by anyone, regardless of the previously listed factors. Again, many people believe this is not the case, and because many people consider sexual assault as taboo, the awareness of sexual assault in today’s society while increasing, is not where it needs to be. People are often disturbed or bothered by talking about sexual assault. I hope by investigating this issue, I can raise awareness for people of all ages; races, genders, and sexualities in order to help prevent sexual assault, or make sure people are properly punished for their crimes. While punishing the offender will not undo their actions, and may not provide the victim any consolation or satisfaction, if offenders are held accountable for their actions, hopefully, they will be less likely to commit such a terrible act. My goal with this paper is to raise awareness of sexual assault and hopefully understand why victims of sexual assault often do not come forward to authorities, and why are authorities often unable to help the victims. Maybe by understanding this process and raising awareness, we can improve the process and help victims receive the support and closure they need.