A new study from the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) has been released detailing the prevalence of sexual violence in Alberta.
“I think that the results, although they are a bit troubling or alarming, they aren’t surprising to us,” said Stephanie Hadley, the Association of Communities Against Abuse executive director. “We definitely see very similar trends in the work that we do.”
Hadley said the last major study of this type was done back in the 80s, so to have the up-to-date information is critical.
“In some cases, things haven’t changed a whole lot but also, we have a much greater population in Alberta so that means there are many more people impacted by the issue than there were back then.”
The Association of Communities Against Abuse (ACAA) focuses on raising awareness with individuals, families and communities in order to reduce the prevalence of violence within the local region.
As to the recent survey, it was administered to residents over the age of 18 only. It was broken down into eight sections, the first being the prevalence of sexual abuse across one’s lifespan.
“The overall prevalence, the statistical ratio of people affected, really hasn’t changed,” said Hadley. “It’s also the lowest reported crime out there.”
On the plus side, Hadley also noted that over the years, access to information and support has improved markedly. “There might be a greater awareness or willingness to talk about these issues,” she explained. “I also know that back in the 80s, many support services like ours were founded. There was certainly a lack of services (then) for anyone who was experiencing this issue. At that time, there may have been one or two centres in the province whereas now we have 14 member agencies that are part of AASAS – so that’s a really positive change,” she said.
“I think that the work people in the field have done has really pushed forward the increase of awareness and also being able to increase services and gather support and resources so that we can provide more to those who are impacted by the issue.”
According to the survey, almost one in every two adult Albertans has experienced some time of sexual abuse in their lifetime. The results also showed that females were two times more likely than males to experience sexual abuse.
Secondly, types of sexual abuse ran the gamut from feeling pressured to have sex, being touched inappropriately, aggressive sexual advances to showing or persuading the survivor to look at pornographic material.
And across all survivors, 92 per cent experienced ‘chargeable’ acts of sexual abuse.
Thirdly, at-risk groups (groups who had a higher prevalence of sexual abuse compared to the overall rate for Alberta) included people who are indigenous (66 per cent); people with diverse sexual orientations (77 per cent) and people living with a disability (49 per cent).
Also noted in the results was that three out of four survivors of sexual abuse were under the age of 18 during at least one incident of abuse.
For Hadley, seeing awareness and increased openness about the issue is essential.
“I feel privileged to be working here, and I think that with our current position we are in as an agency, we have the ability to really have an impact in east-central Alberta,” said Hadley. “We’ve seen, over the last couple of years, some major changes in how we deliver services and what types of services we deliver. I think this is greatly enhancing the experience for clients and individuals who have been impacted – and not just the person themselves, but their families and the people around them that care about them.
“This service existing in a rural area like the one that we serve is something that you don’t find everywhere,” she added.
“I also feel really passionate about being able to work in a field where, although the steps may be small, and although there is a tremendous amount of work still to be done, we do see those success stories. There is momentum and things are changing.”