The number of people seeking help from the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre has recently doubled.
The centre’s executive director, Patricia Arango, said recent media attention brought to the issue may explain why they have seen such an increase.
“Everybody is talking about sexual assault,” said Arango. “It is helping people come out and look for help.
“Unfortunately this has to happen to open doors for other victims to look for help.”
In a typical three-month span, the centre will see 47 people seeking its services. In the most recent quarter, that number doubled to 100.
“There are a lot of kids coming forward, it’s not only adults,” said Arango. “We have cases of people coming looking for help for abuse that happened in the past. Now they feel ready to come and find some help.
“We know the reason they don’t report is because they aren’t ready. It’s not easy to talk about sex. There are so many reasons victims stay quiet, they come out when they are ready and we are there when they are ready to talk.”
The centre offers free counselling, will help people prepare for court and encourages them to report abuse or sexual assault to police. If an incident just happened, the centre encourages people to go to the hospital. The hospital has a sexual assault response team.
Victims are also encouraged to go to the centre for therapy.
Arango said it is important for them to believe the victim and to support them when they come forward.
“The victim is not responsible to put the offender in jail, the victim has gone through enough with the incident and then having to come forward and report it.”
The centre also offers educational programming to help post-secondary students. A 2007 U.S. Department of Justice study indicated that as many as 20 per cent or one in five female respondents to a survey were sexually assaulted during their post-secondary years.
Dan Sarrasin, Red Deer College’s security and emergency response manager, said the college hasn’t had a confirmed case of sexual assault since he started at the college a year ago. But Red Deer College is prepared if the situation were to arise.
Students can access assistance at the career counselling centre where trained counsellors can help. And staff can go to the health, safety and wellness centre to seek help.
“We encourage the victims to go to the police — we can’t force them to and a lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that,” said Sarrasin.
Depending on the situation, the response could consist of a security plan for the victim and even a threat assessment.
A threat assessment by campus security and the Red Deer RCMP, if required, would review whether a student or staff member poses a threat to campus safety.
According to the school’s misconduct policy, which covers academic and non-academic behaviour, a student can be suspended or expelled if they are deemed a threat.
“Whether it’s an allegation of a threat or it’s been solved, the threat assessment process would kick in,” said Sarrasin.
Security plans allow students and staff to request escorts to their vehicles.
Sarrasin said the college does not have an explicit sexual assault policy. However, concepts contained within the college’s harassment policy and the violence in the workplace policy drive the process of reporting, providing support and threat assessment for any type of assault including sexual assault, Sarrasin.
“I’m happy to say we have a pretty safe campus here,” said Sarrasin. “The most important thing is we’re providing support to our students and our staff.”
To learn more about the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Centre or access its services, call 403-340-1124 or visit www.casasc.ca. The 24-hour crisis line is 1-866-956-1099.