Canada’s shameful sex crime secret

There’s a troubling number missing from the latest report from Statistics Canada on criminal victimization. I went looking for the figure because it was there in the last version of the report, in 2004 – it showed that just 8% of all sexual assaults in 2004 were reported to police, a puny 42,000 assaults reported among the total of 512,000 committed. Expressed another way, less than 1 out of every 10 sexual assaults committed was reported to police. It is a pitiful and shameful statistic, a reflection of the fact that despite decades of progress in dealing with sexual abuse and exploitation, authorities have done little to make the process of reporting abuse and confronting abusers less frightening and intimidating. The vast majority of victims still suffer in silence. Statistics Canada refuses to release the figure for 2009 (more on that after the jump). What if things are getting worse? What if they are getting much worse? I’ve produced a disturbing statistic that suggests, if the number is valid, that far fewer sexual assault victims are reporting to police.

According to my calculations, the number of sexual assault victims who reported to police in 2009 could be as low as 3%, a frighteningly small proportion of the total of 677,000 sexual assaults committed in Canada in 2009, according to StatsCan. If this figure is valid, it means roughly 20,300 assaults were reported, while hundreds of thousands were not. StatsCan tells me the calculation I’ve done to come up with the figure is not reliable and the comparison should not be made. To produce the figure, I used statistics from the new victimization survey (part of the General Social Survey or GSS) and the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) figures for 2009 that reveal crimes reported to police and then reported to StatsCan. In the the GSS survey, roughly 20,000 Canadians aged 15 and older were asked if they had been sexually assaulted in the year and whether they reported to police. The findings are extrapolated, based on census figures, to represents the entire Canadian population. The resulting numbers are considered statistically sound. The UCR report, on the other hand, simply reflects crimes reported to police by citizens and considered ‘founded’ or legitimate by investigators.

StatsCan says you can’t compare numbers from the two surveys. “I wouldn’t suggest it just because the GSS and the UCR are two completely different measures and they each have their strengths and weaknesses but I would not suggest doing that,” analyst Shannon Brennan told me, in an interview.

Here’s a snip from page 29 in the 2009 victimization report, a table comparing the number of victimizations reported to police in the last three editions of this study:

The absence of the 2009 ‘reported to police’ sex assaults figures is glaring. The highlighted “Fs” denote, according to StatsCan that the numbers are “too unreliable” to be reported. Senior analyst Mia Dauvergne told me, in an email, that “the percentage of sexual assaults reported to police was suppressed due to the unreliability of the estimate.”

Brennan said the number will never be revealed. “We found it to be an unreliable estimate under our guidelines that we have set out for data quality and we won’t publish the number,” she said.

Here’s the ‘reported to police’ stats snipped from the 2004 victimization survey:

Note that the ‘reported’ and ‘not reported’ percentage don’t add to 100. This is because some respondents don’t answer or say they ‘don’t know’ in answer to the question.

Here’s a snip from the 2009 UCR report, showing that a total of 20,931 sexual assaults (in three categories) were reported to police across Canada:

To produce my figure, I used this 20,931 sexual assaults reported as the numerator in a percentage calculation using 677,000 (the number of sexual assaults committed, according to the victimization survey), as the denominator. The result = 3%.

Interestingly, StatsCan says 88% of people in the 2009 victimization survey who said they were a victim of a sexual assault said they did not report to police. This is precisely the same ‘did not report’ figure as the 2004 survey.

Whether you choose to believe that my 3% ‘reported to police’ figure is valid or not, there’s an inescapable conclusion here – that hundreds of thousands of Canadians say they are being sexually assaulted each year, and then remarkably choose not to report it to police.

How is that possible and is it believable? After two decades of investigating sexual abuse scandals in churches, schools, choirs and sports organizations – I’m not surprised. Many victims I’ve met say they never had the strength necessary to confront an abuser – and they know that going to police will lead to many confrontations. Many have told me they weren’t believed when they did tell someone and many victims wrongly blame themselves, in some cases, for decades.

I’ve never forgotten a meeting in 1997 with a 30-something mother who was among several women sexually abused for years by a revered high school teacher in Kingston, Dennis Doherty, when they were teenage students. She and the other women had been abused 20 years earlier, but the teacher was still in a classroom. Most of the victims were afraid to come forward. One tried but was not believed. The woman told me they were “nice girls,” and it “shouldn’t have happened to us.” But they did not report it.

Why wouldn’t I have gone to the police? You know, the statistics are that every girl gets abused at some point and that was, I guess, my turn.”

The women finally went to police, two decades after the abuse. Doherty was eventually convicted of abusing some of the victims who came forward and he was sent to jail.

Here’s the complete 2009 victimization report:

Tagged , , , , ,