Sexual assaults by strangers up significantly in Vancouver, police say of 'very concerning' trend
Police in Vancouver are advising the public to be wary as the city experiences an alarming increase in sexual assaults.
There was a 129 per cent increase in reports of sexual assaults by strangers last month, when compared to the reports filed pre-pandemic, in July 2019.
Many of those cases have been in the downtown core, the Vancouver Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.
"In particular, there has been a 167 per cent increase in sexual assaults related to the Granville Entertainment District when compared to the three year average for the month of July," Const. Tania Visintin said in the statement.
"This is obviously very concerning."
Visintin said there have been eight incidents reported in the entertainment district since July 1, ranging from unwanted touching or groping to forced sexual intercourse.
In total, there were 16 stranger sex assaults reported in the city last month, compared to 10 in the same month last year, and seven in July 2019.
And the VPD said the total may actually be higher.
"We know that offences against a person, specifically sexual offences, are vastly underreported," Visintin said.
"Our officers are very alive to the sensitivity around these types of files and will do anything they can to uphold the integrity of the survivor."
Women’s advocates say they’re also seeing a spike in sex assaults this summer.
“Survivors talk about being followed, being accosted on the street, as well as being touched,” said Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS).
In response to the uptick, The Vancouver-based group has launched outreach teams on the streets of four Vancouver neighbourhoods, including the Granville strip.
“(The teams are there) so that survivors and victims know there is a resource available on the spot in the moment, to be able to take action and help anybody get to safety,” said MacDougall.
Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver hopes to gauge the areas of the city where people feel most vulnerable to sexualized violence. Vancouver is one of six Canadian cities participating in the UN Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Initiative. It's a global program led by UN Women, aiming to address gender-based violence and harassment through city policies. City staff hope residents will fill out a short online survey about what corners of Vancouver are of the most concern.
Those spaces could be “parks, streets, school grounds, or even virtual spaces,” said Sonmin Bong, social planner for the City of Vancouver.
Participants have until the end of September to complete the survey, which can be done anonymously. Responses will help inform existing and future policies, programs and services to create safer public spaces citywide.
“(The goal is) to look at what the city needs to prioritize to address this massive systemic and cultural issue of gender-based sexualized violence and harassment,” Bong said.
Police ask anyone who has been sexually assaulted or witnesses such an assault to call 911 or the non-emergency line.
Additionally, the VPD is re-launching its "Hands off" campaign on social media. The initiative originally launched in 2019 is meant to bring awareness to what counts as unwanted sexual touching, instructing would-be offenders that these acts are considered crimes.
The online graphic features a design police say is meant to portray both breasts and a bottom. The copy reads, "Groping = sex assault.
"A sexual assault is any sexual contact you make without consent."
It features the social media hashtags "handsoff" and "gropetojail."