This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
According to a new national poll that should surprise no one and anger everyone, women are frequently the target of sexual assault and rarely feel comfortable reporting the attacks to police.
The Forum Research poll, released this week, confirms what women's groups have been saying for years—sexual assault is really common. The poll interviewed 1,658 Canadians and is considered accurate to within 3 percent, 19 times out of 20.
Of the women who spoke with Forum, 17 percent said they had been sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetime, while 12 percent chose not to answer. The results stayed virtually the same across age groups, geographic region, and income level. The remaining 70 percent clearly said they had not been assaulted or raped.
Of those who reported being attacked, 15 percent said it was at the hands of a family member, and a quarter said it was an acquaintance or a date.
Just over one tenth of those who had been attacked reported it to police.
The poll shows that the problem also exists for men, but with much less frequency. Still, 5 percent of men said they were sexually assaulted or raped, while 11 percent preferred not to answer. One in ten said that the abuse came from a "person in authority."
Just seven percent of those men went to the police after the attack.
It's not surprising that these charges rarely come forward. According to government statistics, police lay charges in just 42 percent of sexual assault cases—eight points lower than the average for other violent crimes. That number goes up slightly if the assault involves a weapon, and improves to nearly 70 percent for aggravated sexual assault, the most serious of the possible charges.
One in five basic sexual assault cases are "cleared otherwise," which includes cases where "the complainant requests that charges not be laid against the accused, the accused has died, the accused has diplomatic immunity, the accused is referred to a diversionary program, police discretion, or for a reason beyond the control of the police."
Even those sexual assault cases that do progress from being reported to laying charges only result in a guilty verdict about half the time.
The survey also asked about sexual harassment. One quarter of the women polled reported being sexually harassed, while 16 percent chose not to answer. Ten percent of men say they, too, have faced sexual harassment.
The poll caps off a year when sexual violence became a major topic of discussion in Canada. The conversation gained prominence due to the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi, the revelation that Parliament is a hotbed of harassment against women, and the campaigns to encourage women to share their stories, as they did on the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported.
There have been calls for the federal government to do more to end violence against women. The NDP has called for a national action plan to address the issue, and for an inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women. Indigenous women make up a disproportionate number of victims of violent sexual assaults and murders.
The government, for its part, has launched a plan to try to reduce violent against First Nations women, but has rejected calls for a national inquiry, and has launched a campaign to fund local sexual assault centers.
Conservative MP Rob Anders, notorious for being the worst, suggested that rape be reintroduced as a federal crime (it was replaced with "sexual assault" and "aggravated sexual assault" in 1983). He introduced legislation to beef up penalties for sexual assault that involves penetration. Critics of Anders's bill point out that, prior to 1983, women's allegations were often undermined because it can be so difficult to prove penetration.
At least he's trying.
But if 2014 taught us anything, it's that the issues around sexual violence aren't going away. While the rate of sexual assaults has been declining since a huge spike in the 1990s, it's still more common than it was in the early 1980s.
And given that Forum found that the prevalence of sexual assault amongst 18 to 30 year-old women was slightly higher than the average, there's still a long way to go.
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