Campaign links growing public support for sexual assault survivors to increased reporting
Red Deer, Alberta – September 11, 2017 – #IBelieveYou Alberta’s province-wide sexual assault responder campaign has launched a new year focused on celebrating – and escalating – the growing public support for survivors in Alberta. Organizers say the dramatic shift in public sentiment toward believing survivors as a first step is helping to reduce the fear of coming forward – increasing reporting rates and demand for services.
“Historically, survivors have been afraid to tell for fear of not being believed. That fear is fading. When we see an increase in reporting, we know we’re doing a better job of helping survivors feel safe to tell,” says Deb Tomlinson, CEO of Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) and a 25 year veteran of the sector. “We’ve made great gains, but we still have a distance to go,” Tomlinson added. “We’re encouraging more Albertans to add their voice to the chorus of support for survivors so that the message is even more commonly understood, and even more survivors feel safe to tell someone.”
- Since last year, AASAS has seen a 53% jump in new counselling clients.
- Reporting to police increased in both Edmonton (13%) and Calgary (20%).
- People reaching out to the Calgary’s Sexual Assault Response Team went up by 23%.
- Since 2015 (the year the campaign began), the number of Albertans who would give a supportive response to a survivor has more than tripled. And the number of Albertans who would say “I believe you” to a survivor has gone up twelve times.
Despite the positive trends in Alberta, the national reporting rate for sexual assault remains at five per cent – that’s according to the latest Canadian General Social Survey by Statistics Canada. Notably, the rate of every violent crime in Canada has decreased from previous years with the exception of sexual assault, which remains stable.
Added Minister of Community and Social Services, Irfan Sabir: “No one should have to suffer through sexual violence, and all Albertans have a role to play in preventing violence and supporting survivors.
Through this campaign we will continue to reach out to Albertans and break the silence and stigma around this heartbreaking issue. To all those who have suffered and survived through violence, and on behalf of all my colleagues in government, I would like to say: we believe you.”
Added Minister of Status of Women, Stephanie McLean: “These numbers are promising, and show the value of the #IBelieveYou campaign. Every survivor deserves to be believed, and to be treated with dignity and respect. When survivors, the majority of whom are women, feel safe to tell, they are more likely to get help and seek justice. Our government is proud to be your partners in shifting the culture from blaming victims to believing survivors.”
Added Tomlinson: “Self-blame is another factor that keeps survivors silent. Letting survivors know it’s not their fault is part of believing. Traditional prevention campaigns that focus on the behavior or the character of survivors (watch where you walk, what you wear, what you drink) also reinforce the idea that the survivor is to blame, when in reality there is only one person who is responsible, and that is the person who chose to commit the sexual assault. No one ever asks to be sexually assaulted.”
Added Kristin Raworth, sexual violence survivor (Edmonton): “When I first disclosed my assault, I was not believed or supported. This campaign empowered me to begin sharing my story. While I had once felt silenced, the words ‘I Believe You’ helped me reclaim my voice and begin a journey towards healing.”
The campaign is a partnership between AASAS and the Government of Alberta Ministry of Community and Social Services. It has gained wide support from twenty-eight post-secondary campuses, military, student, business, and community leaders, media, politicians, and every day Albertans. This year, the campaign welcomes the disability community, and for the first time, at least two student activation centres in Ontario will be participating. #IBelieveYou has taken a difficult subject and communicated it in very non-threatening way. Organizers say the level of support from students is a measure of how important this message is on every campus.
New for 2017:
- A new 30s PSA takes people into the life of multiple survivors and shows the compassionate response by friends and family, modeling the behavior we want people to follow.
- For the first time, a digital mosaic will pull together all messages of support that are hashtagged #IBelieveYou on Twitter and Instagram, and collect them within an interactive digital image. Everyone can watch the mosaic fill out, and add their voice with each #Ibelieveyou message. Through the mosaic, we’ll showcase the breadth of support for survivors in a single digital image.
- On campuses this year, we have installed portable graffiti walls as a way for students to visually send their messages of support and to provide a backdrop for photos and selfies.
- A person with a disability (a young girl with Downs Syndrome) will be visually represented in one of the campaign posters. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. That’s why the campaign is inclusive of gender, age, sexual orientation, and now disability.
- Talented Calgary musician Jesse Peters has written and produced “Not Your Fault” a song inspired by the campaign and survivors that he knows, as well as his own experience with believing survivors.
Practical steps for responders
While it is critical to address bystanders and perpetrators, responder education is equally vital—and often much more achievable. People want to be part of the solution. Here are some tips:
- If someone discloses to you, the best response is to start by believing. Believing is something you can show, do, and say.
- Unless a child is involved, reporting to police is optional, and there is no time limit on reporting. Respect their decision, whatever it may be.
- The role of friends and family is not to play judge and jury, but to start by believing. When people start by believing, due process can happen, but the choice to report belongs to the survivor.
- Avoid asking “why” questions. Even people with the best intentions can sound accusatory.
- Let them know it’s not their fault. No one asks to be sexually assaulted. Other positive words include I’m sorry that happened, and how can I help.
- If you’ve doubted someone in the past, remember it’s never too late to start believing.
Add your Voice!
The campaign has run each fall since 2015. It will run once more in 2018. This year, the goal is to encourage Albertans to add their voice to the chorus of support for sexual assault survivors so that the message can be even more widely understood and embraced – and so that more survivors will feel safe to tell someone. Together, we can make an even bigger impact on the lives of survivors, and make our communities healthier and safer for everyone.