A Vancouver advocate against sexual assault says a new police effort to deter groping in public places may raise awareness about the problem, but the most effective deterrents are criminal charges.
Law enforcement agencies launched an anti-groping poster campaign this week to send a message that unwanted sexual contact is classified as sexual assault and will result in charges.
But Hilla Kerner, spokesperson for Vancouver’s Rape Relief Society, told Black Press Media that most sexual offences don’t end in anyone actually appearing in court.
According to documents from a Freedom of Information request by Kerner, only 128 of 624 sex assaults reported to Vancouver police resulted in charges in 2018, or about 20 per cent.
“What we really want the police to do is increase that number – because that is what tells men they are likely to get away with sexually assaulting women,” she said. “We believe that is the most deterring message.”
Groping is so common, Kerner said, that she suspects many victims don’t bother to report it.
“We hear it from the women who volunteer with us, we hear it from the women who call the crisis line – whenever we talk to women, women are being groped in public spaces on a regular basis.”
Vancouver police Sgt. Aaron Roed said officers treat every reported sexual assault as a top priority.
“If it is reported to police, it will be investigated,” he told Black Press Media, adding that the department offers support to victims upon reaching out.
Bystanders can also play a pivotal role in combating public sexual offences, Kerner said, by speaking up or intervening and taking a photo of the suspect.
Vancouver police said they have investigated 270 reports of unwanted sexual contact since 2018, while Metro Vancouver Transit Police have investigated a further 75. The Barwatch organization is also behind the anti-groping campaign.