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Half of all Albertans experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime

Last Updated Jan 29, 2020 at 5:58 pm MDT

IMAGE. Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services and Waypoints.

A new study on sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse found disturbing new information.

The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) partnered with the Alberta government and the research firm, RA. Malatest and Associates on the study.

Debra Tomlinson, CEO of AASAS, said the study estimates 1.8 million Albertans experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime.

She added the research shows this is a health and safety issue of “epidemic proportions”.

“Albertans have a strong history of coming together to help each other in times of need. People who experience sexual abuse are our family members, our friends and our colleagues. And each and every one of us has a role to play in ensuring survivors get support.”

The most recent data on sexual abuse in Canada comes from a study Dr Robin Badgely chaired in 1984.

Province-wide issue

Researchers surveyed 1500 Albertans and used provincial estimates and Badgely’s data.

They estimate 45 per cent of the current population experienced sexual abuse or violence in their lives.

Therefore, estimates place the number of Albertans who experience sexual abuse at 1.48 million, not counting those under 18.

Females are also twice as likely to experience sexual abuse than males.

Two in three females and one in three males experienced sexual abuse.

Also, 75 per cent of survivors first suffered abuse as children, and of those 50 per cent also experience sexual assault as an adult.

Leela Sharon Aheer, who is Alberta’s Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, said understanding the landscape is important when combatting gender-based violence.

“It is heartbreaking that so many Albertans are impacted by abuse and violence in all forms. Our Government will utilize this current and long overdue information as we move forward in cooperation with community organizations to inform how best to make an impact, support survivors and end gender-based violence together.”

Once over the age of 18, 41 per cent of women experienced sexual abuse compared to just 17 per cent of men.

The findings also align with data on childhood sexual abuse as one in three or 34 per cent of Albertans experienced sexual abuse while under the age of 18.

The Alberta government said the current population of kids in Alberta is 955,799.

According to data on the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse, that would mean 325,000 children have experienced sexual abuse or violence.

Divided along gender lines, 44 per cent of females and 24 per cent of males experienced abuse in the province.

When the first incident occurred, survivors were usually between the ages of 6-11 years.

Common factors include the abuser was most likely a man, the survivor knew the abuser, and the abuser didn’t live in the survivor’s home.

Support survivors

Alberta Minister of Community and Social Services, Rajan Sawhney said the AASAS provides caring support to survivors.

“Research is important, and our government will continue to address the prevalence of sexual abuse in our communities. We have recently passed Alberta’s version of Clare’s Law. We remain committed to providing supports and services to survivors of sexual violence.”

Sawhney added survivors need to know people believe their testimonies.

57 per cent of respondents to the survey agree the average Albertan believes sexual abuse is an issue in their community.

However, 40 per cent say there isn’t enough support for survivors, and most responded counselling is the most important support.

Two of three personally know a survivor of sexual abuse, either as an adult or a child.

53 per cent of Albertans saying they personally supported a survivor.

Tomlinson said understanding the problem of sexual violence is key to finding the solution.

“The experience of sexual violence is linked to some of our most serious health and social issues like mental illness, human trafficking, suicide, homelessness and domestic violence. These study findings have the potential to make a positive difference in the health and safety of all Albertans.”

Detailed findings on the survey are available on the AASAS website.

For information on local sexual assault services, access the website for Waypoints.