This year, Sexual Assault Awareness Week is recognized in Saskatchewan May 12-18. SEIU-West stands against sexual assault and recognizes the need for a robust level of services that support those who experience assault, for it is clear we must do more to address sexual assault in our communities.
Saskatchewan has the second highest rate of reported sexual assaults amongst all provinces, and the highest rate of intimate partner violence. Yet studies have shown most sexual assault survivors do not report. This failure to report might be attributed to the lack of action – many survivors have said they’ve felt re-victimized by the system of reporting – an investigation from Globe and Mail found that 19 per cent of sexual assault allegations in 2010 -2014 were considered “unfounded,” meaning Canadian police did not believe a crime had actually occurred.
Still, we’re seeing a rise of those who report sexual assault. Police reported that sexual assaults were up 38.6% from 2017 to 2018 in Regina, and are up 10.3% in Saskatoon over the same period. However, many support services are not able to meet these growing needs. In fact, service organizations like the Saskatoon Sexual Assault Information Centre saw their provincial funding freeze for three years and in the latest 2019-20 budget, women’s shelters had a mere one per cent funding increase. This lack of support is having severe consequences for those who have experienced sexual assault - staff at these organizations say there is a growing demand for counselling services, but their resources are inadequate to meet the growing needs. This has led to staff turnover and many of these service centres have had to make program cuts to ensure they can provide basic services with the limited amount of resources they have.
In order to address these ineffective justice and service needs, advocates are demanding increased education. The questions from the police and justice system during a sexual assault case often question the credibility of the survivor’s actions. We therefore need education for judges and police but also for our communities who often act as juries. That is why SEIU-West is applauding the announcement of a new action plan to end sexual violence.
Announced in May 2019 – during Sexual Assault Awareness Week - Saskatchewan now has a 22-point action plan to end sexual violence in this province. We were the last province in Canada to develop a sexual assault strategy, and the Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) attributes support for this initiative from the funding provided by federal government. SASS travelled to over 22 communities and spoke to survivors, family members, and service providers in order to develop this plan. This report has a focus on prevention and education, support and intervention, responsive legal and justice systems, and collaborative leadership and accountability. SASS found that the legal system was where many people were having the most difficulties - in response to the lack of trust in reporting, there was also an announcement for a pilot project involving a review protocol in Regina.
On a quarterly basis, members of organizations like the SASS will review Regina’s police sexual assault investigations, and the reviews will involve cases where charges haven’t been laid. SEIU-West supports this step as this process will involve people who have spent their lives working with and supporting those who are survivors of sexual assault.
Members and leaders of SEIU-West were also relieved to learn that the government has announced Bill No. 172, The Saskatchewan Employment (Paid Interpersonal Violence and Sexual Violence Leave) Amendment Act. This amendment will allow access to paid leave from work for survivors of domestic violence.
It’s appropriate that this first reading should take place during Sexual Assault Awareness Week and is welcoming news for all workers within Saskatchewan – as we have highest rates of intimate partner violence in Canada and better support is needed. We know domestic violence deeply affects people at work, and that job security is not enough, so the addition of paid leave is a great step forward in addressing the urgent need to increase support systems for those experiencing domestic violence.
Saskatchewan was one of the last provinces to legislate paid leave. The SEIU-West Young Workers Committee, partnered with the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL), and the Saskatchewan NDP, in order to help ensure paid leave become a priority for our government.
Now that we have this legislation, awareness is key. Each workplace should have a clear and communicated workplace policy so workers know they can access paid leave should they require it. How many persons who experience domestic violence would tell their employer of their experiences if they do not have, or are not aware of, any support? How many more would be fearful of persecution if they did share their experiences? Research has shown that many people do not report because of the stigmas associated with domestic violence - these stigmas act as a barrier to communication and support. That is why employers should now take the steps to provide education and training for themselves and their staff. We are hopeful these steps will result in concrete and enforced support for those who experience domestic violence.
For more information on sexual assault, please visit http://sassk.ca/resources/
To find your nearest support services provider, visit http://sassk.ca/finding-support/ or call 211.
If you experience sexual assault at work or if it’s affecting your work, please call the SEIU-West Member Resource Centre at 1.888.999.7348.