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Sexual Assault Prevention Strategies in Canada

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Between 2002 and 2016, Canadian police investigated an average of 22,000 reported sexual assaults per year, according to incident-based crime statistics compiled by Statistics Canada. Starting in 2017, this annual average started rising and rose to over 35,000 in 2022. These numbers may represent a proverbial drop in the sexual assault bucket, given that research suggests that only about 6% of sexual assaults nationally are reported to police. The latest (2019) Statistics Canada criminal victimization report uses this 6% figure, noting that the “odds of sexual assault being reported to police were about 80% lower than for other violent crimes.” The report also notes that other studies have consistently reported similar findings.

The significant uptick in police investigations of reported sexual assaults is likely due in large part to increased public awareness. In early 2017, The Globe and Mail published a series of articles detailing Canadian police deficiencies in handling sexual assault reporting. The year also saw the emergence of the #MeToo movement, a social media-driven awareness campaign that highlighted the prevalence of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape culture in North America.

In the wake of #MeToo, The Globe and Mail reporting, and other public emphasis on the prevalence of sexual assault in Canada, the government, police, universities, and non-profit groups have initiated several new sexual assault prevention strategies.

With a vested interest in the issue, the sexual assault defence lawyers of the Greater Toronto Area’s Mass Tsang law firm thought we should examine some of these initiatives and determine whether they are having an impact. Based on the increase in sexual assault reporting by victims, they seem to be. However, they have yet to show any influence on the Crown’s successful prosecution of sexual assault suspects. We’ll look at those numbers after we look at the most prominent new sexual assault prevention initiatives.

Sexual Assault Brought Under Umbrella of Gender-Based Violence

Launched in June 2017, the Canadian government’s “ Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence ” represents the broadest initiative to prevent sexual assault. Initially funded with $800 million and another $44 million annually, the strategy addresses sexual assault, intimate-partner violence (domestic assault), and violence against 2SLGBTQI+ persons. Cited as a whole-of-government approach to ending all forms of gender-based violence, seven federal departments and agencies receive funding to conduct specific initiatives. Among initiatives targeting sexual assault prevention are:

  • Cross-agency enhanced support for sexual assault victims.
  • Programs designed to ease a victim’s ability to report sexual assault.
  • Justice Department funding to support independent legal advice and representation to sexual assault victims.
  • Funding to support professional development in the judiciary in relation to sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
  • Programs to address sexual assault at post-secondary institutions.
  • Expanded training for police investigations of sexual assault.
  • Numerous sexual assault educational outreach efforts across the agencies.

New Law Requires Continuing Education of Judiciary

Influenced by the strategy, the government amended the Judges Act in 2021 to require judges to agree to partake in continuing education classes to be eligible for appointment to a provincial superior court. Designed to enhance sexual assault victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system, the Amendments also require judges always to provide a written reason for their rulings in sexual assault cases.

RCMP Significantly Enhances Emphasis on Sexual Assault

Also influenced and financially supported by the strategy, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) launched its multi-faceted Sexual Assault Review and Victim Support Plan . The stated goals of the initiative are to:

  • “Treat victims of sexual assault with compassion, care and respect, informed by established evidence-based best practices;
  • Conduct sexual assault investigations across Canada consistently and to the highest professional standards, with oversight practices established to ensure the greatest level of accountability and stewardship of investigations; and,
  • Increase public awareness and trust of RCMP sexual assault investigations and encourage greater levels of reporting.”

The program established 13 action items that are being conducted under five categories, including:

  • File review
  • Police training and awareness
  • Investigative accountability
  • Victim support
  • Public education and communications

Under file review, the RCMP has completed the investigations of all sexual assault investigations not cleared by charge in 2015, 2016, and 2017. This review was designed to provide case-specific recommendations to investigators and identify ways to improve the quality of sexual assault investigations. This initiative also led the RCMP to develop a Best Practices Guide to aid officers in their investigations.

The RCMP significantly expanded its sexual assault police training and awareness curriculum to ensure officers are up to date on existing legislation, consent law, trauma-informed investigative approaches, and other factors to enhance their investigative capabilities and provide better support to victims.

The service’s investigative accountability was bolstered by the formation of a national unit charged with providing training, guidance, and oversight of sexual assault investigations. RCMP divisions are now required to have a process for ensuring that all sexual assault files undergo supervisory oversight, and investigators are required to detail clear justification for classifying a sexual assault as unfounded.

Victim support initiatives include:

  • Protocols for providing safe, secure, and private environments for reporting sexual assaults.
  • A process for referring sexual assault victims to local victim support services.
  • Exploring and establishing alternative options for victims to report sexual assault, including third-party reporting.
  • Establishing a strong relationship with victim support service providers and other stakeholders.

Ongoing public education and communications efforts include the development of outreach efforts to encourage victims to report sexual assaults.

Prosecution of Sexual Assault Cases Failing to Deliver Positive Results

Perhaps it’s still in the early days of these sexual assault prevention initiatives; however, Crown efforts to secure guilty verdicts against sexual assault offenders have been in decline since 2005. According to Stats Can’s latest data on criminal court decisions , the 8,536 Canadian sexual assault cases that went to trial during the 2005/2006 reporting period resulted in a 30% conviction rate, with 2,535 defendants found guilty. The 8,807 cases that went to trial in the 2021/2022 reporting period resulted in only a %15 rate with 1,289 convictions. While 5,081 defendants had their charges stayed or withdrawn in 2005/2006, the annual numbers have topped 6,000 and 7,000 since 2015/2016.

Secure a Robust Defence with the GTA Sexual Assault Criminal Defence Lawyers of Mass Tsang

You probably don’t want to become a statistic and likely wouldn’t consider yourself a sexual assailant. However, with a zero-tolerance mentality and an exceptionally low threshold for what legally constitutes sexual assault, non-consensual touching of any type can lead police to charge you with sexual assault. To ensure that you don’t pay stiff consequences for an error in judgment or misunderstanding, consult with an experienced sexual assault defence lawyer if you’ve been charged with the offence. The Greater Toronto Area’s sexual assault defence team at Mass Tsang has successfully defended 100s of clients. To challenge your sexual assault charges in Toronto, contact the skilled lawyers of Mass Tsang.

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