Statistics Canada says the rate of police-reported sexual assault in Canada has reached its highest level since 1996.
There were more than 34,200 reports of sexual assault countrywide in 2021, an 18 per cent increase from 2020, according to newly released numbers from the agency.
While reports decreased in 2020, the rate of sexual assault has otherwise steadily increased for five years.
Advocates at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre say the uncertainty, fear and stress created by the pandemic has led to a rise in sexualized violence.
“When things like that happen unfortunately people look to try to gain a sense of power and control in their own lives and some people will use violence to do that,” said Carissa Ropponen, Resource Development Manager for the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre.
There has been a growing push to decrease the stigma around sexual assault and that means more survivors may feel comfortable coming forward, still Statistics Canada says only six per cent of sexual assaults in the country are reported to police.
The sexual assaults account for a third of an overall five per cent increase in reports of violent crime, with homicides, criminal harassment, hate crimes and firearm offences on the rise.
Non-violent crime is meanwhile on a different trajectory, down three per cent across the board, with lower rates of breaking and entering and thefts under $5,000.
In B.C. the crime severity index (CSI) has dropped five per cent, but the violent crime severity index has increased four per cent. For Victoria the CSI has dropped 10 per cent since 2020 but it saw a 22 percent increase in the violent crime severity index.
“That’s the reality of what our police officers are seeing on the streets, and on that particular aspect it just doesn’t come as a surprise to me,” said Victoria Police Chief Del Manak.
While in Victoria the total number of crime incidents in 2021 was lower than the year before and the crime severity index today is significantly lower than what it was in the mid to late 1990’s, the city still has one of the highest crime severity ratings in the province compared to other communities served by a municipal police force, including Vancouver.
“The reality of the situation is the small city of Victoria with an urban dense population and having the highest number of liquor seats and being the provincial capital is carrying the lion’s share of the work in the region,” said Manak. “If we were having a regional approach to policing the number would be significantly lower.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2022.