Sexual assault complaints on rise due to social media focus

Sexual assault in Calgary has gained greater awareness in recent years because of the public cases discussed online.

Cases such as the Larry Nassar sentencing, and the rise of the #metoo and #timesup movements online have been focusing public attention on the issue, and the plight of victims of sexual assault and harrassment.

Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA) provides crisis support and education for sexual abuse and assault.

The head of CCASA, Danielle Aubry, told Global News Calgary in late February that the centre has never been busier, and that requests for sexual assault counselling are taking up to nine months to handle.

CCASA worker Tyler Knee said, “historically, what we see is people come forward when they feel there is a safe space, which has been created by all of the various campaigns and awareness about sexual assault and abuse.”

Knee can’t tell if there is a direct connection between the cases and the number of people coming forward.

But CCASA does see an increase in local calls when a social media campaign like #ibelieveyou, #metoo, or #timesup goes viral.

Knee sees the 2014 to 2015 case involving Jian Ghomeshi, a Toronto musician and radio broadcaster, was a kind of “starting point” for sexual assault awareness in Canada.

Ghomeshi was acquitted on sexual assault charges in early 2016.

But despite that outcome, CCASA saw a drastic increase in complaint calls.

“Support line numbers for us and province-wide are a decent gauge,” said Knee.

However, Cari Ionson, the sexual violence response and awareness co-ordinator for Mount Royal University, said raising awareness and eliminating barriers is the best they can do.

“Post-secondary schools really need to make it easier to come forward to talk about sexual assault,” she said.

Healing and justice are the two reasons students would come to the sexual assault centre on the MRU campus.

Giving people the opportunity to “readily identify” their sexual assault experience is what Ionson focuses on.

Ionson said usually assault happens with someone the victim knows and trusts, which makes it harder for that victim to make a complaint.

They need to “find a language to discuss sexual assault with.”

When social media campaigns such as #metoo come out, victims can find it “tough to see online,” and are sometimes warned to take a break from social media until the coverage is over.

Ionson said there is a “stronger necessity to have content warnings,” although it can be helpful to know you are not alone.

“We still have a lot of work to do with taking off the stigma,” said Ionson.

#mrugetsconsent: Cari Ionson, sexual violence response and awareness co-ordinator for Mount Royal University, in her office on Mount Royal University campus on Feb. 8, 2018. Ionson has promoted sexual awareness around the Mount Royal campus with the hashtag #mrugetsconsent. (Photo by Skye Cunningham/The Press)

But it’s not just stigma that affects the victim: It’s one’s self, friends and community, as well.

The University of Calgary has seen how the community can affect individual people.

The women’s centre on the U of C campus started a group called Our Voices in winter 2016, which “creates a culture of consent through activism.”

“We are entering a time of deep connection and destigmatization of sexual violence,” said Ashley Morrison in the Our Voices, Winter 2016 report, with her piece, “Creating a Culture of Consent Through Activism.

In the same piece, Morrison indicates that post-secondary campuses across Canada are “renewing their commitment to ensuring students, especially those at a high risk for sexual assault and harassment, are safe.”

Recent events have put a “spotlight” on sexual assault and harassment, according to the U of C Women’s Resource Centre.

The centre has noticed that people are no longer staying silent and are using online tools such as Twitter, Tumblr and other social media platforms to show support, encourage strength and pressure institutions to take a strong stance on sexual violence with hashtags like #rapecultureiswhen and #everydaysexism.

Similarly, U of C has a Consent Awareness and Sexual Education club (CASE), which is in its third year. Traditional student groups like this one are still predominant in addition to the online support Calgary is seeing.

About Skye Cunningham 4 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Skye Cunningham worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.