Editor’s note: The following column contains subject matter that some readers may find disturbing.
An article on sexual assaults against teens reminded me that sexual assaults are exploding across the NWT. The Status of Women estimates that 11 sexual assaults happen every day in the NWT.
Eleven sexual assaults. Every day! In the NWT! That is serious stuff and make no mistake, it probably happens in every one of our communities.
In fact, our rate of sexual assaults was more than seven times the national rate in 2020. Can you imagine the trauma, resulting pain and suffering that it causes?
And it’s not only the NWT.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 30 per cent of Canadian women over 14 reported being sexually assaulted. Whoa! That means of 10 women you know, three of them have probably been sexually assaulted.
And most sexual assaults are not reported!
And very important for the NWT, Indigenous women are sexually assaulted three times more often than non-Indigenous women. Sad, but true.
You probably think that offenders are usually strangers. Not!
More than half of sexual assault victims know the person who did it; the known offender is usually a friend, a neighbour or someone they know but who is not a close friend.
And it’s not only in Canada. American researchers say almost 15 per cent of American teenage girls said they were forced to have sex. One expert said, “If you think about 10 teenage girls that you know, at least one and possibly more has been raped.”
And young people please note: almost half of the victims on college campuses were drinking!
That’s why when we do workshops with youth, we tell them not to go to a party alone. And, never, ever leave a friend behind, especially if she is passed out. And we tell the boys to protect the girls, specifically if a girl is drunk.
What is sexual assault and consent?
Sexual assault is a crime that one can go to jail for. It is any sexual contact or behaviour done without explicit consent of the other person. Sexual assault includes activities that you do not want or are forced on you, even kissing or sexual touching, penetration of the vagina or anus, and/or oral-genital contact.
Silence is not consent. Each person can also withdraw their consent at any time, and this, too, must be relayed to their partner.
Consent means if the other person tells you to stop after sex has started, you must stop. Also, a person can’t give consent if they’re passed out or too drunk to give consent.
Consent that comes after threats to your safety or threats of harm to others is not considered consent because it is not freely given.
The legal age of consent is 16, but kids aged 12 to 15 can have consensual sex with someone close to their age. Any sexual activity with a child under the age of 12 is a crime as they are too young to consent to sexual activity.
What to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted
The very first thing you should do is call 911 to get medical attention, report the assault to the police, or if you’re afraid of being assaulted again.
Keep everything you had with you when you were sexually assaulted, because that could be evidence. You might not want to report it now, but people change their minds. And remember: you can report a sexual assault even if you didn’t keep evidence.
People often feel dirty after a sexual assault, but try not to have a shower or bath, wash yourself, change your clothes, or brush your hair. DNA samples or fingerprints could be on you and your things, although it’s not as easy to recover as shown on TV.
Write down, record, or tell someone you trust everything you can remember about the assault. Remember: the more information you give to the police, the easier it is to find and convict the offender.
The police will ask you to give a statement on who, what, when, and where things happened.
They will ask questions to clarify details and to get the names of any suspects, witnesses, and bystanders. They will also ask for physical evidence, like pictures of injuries and clothes.
Don’t worry if you can’t provide all this information at the first interview. Trauma often affects our ability to remember things in the order they happened. You can always contact the investigator later with details you remember.
They will also ask a nurse to examine you to collect evidence.
And finally, it’s very important to understand that sexual assault is never the fault of the person who was assaulted. The person who does the sexual assault is responsible for this violent act.
Next article, I will talk about the effects of sexual assaults and helping someone who has been sexually assaulted.
For information or to talk to a crisis worker, phone the NWT Help Line at 1-800-661-0844 or text WELLNESS to 741741. You can also visit the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres at https://casac.ca/northwest-territories/