High reports of sexual assault in N.B. a good thing: counselor

IMG 0630 216x300 High reports of sexual assault in N.B. a good thing: counselor

A student walking the campus “rape trail” alone. Fredericton has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country (Amy MacKenzie/NBBeacon)

New Brunswick is at the top of a list you don’t want to be on.

The province is home to two of the top three cities with the highest rates of reported sexual assaults in Canada.

A study by McLean’s Magazine in 2010 found that Saint John was the city with the highest rates, while Fredericton came in third.

Since 2010, the rates have increased in Fredericton. According to the 2011 Fredericton Police Force Statistical Crime Report, the rates increased by 11.5 per cent from to 78 reported sexual assaults in 2010, to 87 in 2011.

Jennifer Richard, a counselor at the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center, says the high rates of sexual assaults being reported is a good thing.

“We see the rates in a positive light because it means that a lot of victims are actually reporting it to the police,” she said.

“Less than ten per cent of victims of sexual assault report the crime. So the fact that Fredericton has high rates doesn’t necessarily mean that here is where the most amount of assaults are happening, it means we have the highest number of victims reporting the crime to the police.”

Richard says that Saint John and Fredericton have the best resources for sexual assault victims in the province.

“Saint John has a really great sexual assault nurse examiner program where there are specially trained nurses that examine the victims when they go to the hospital.  And they’ve recently developed over the last two years a sexual assault response team. They have a team approach and collaborate with the police and other organizations,” she said.

“And in Fredericton we have the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, which is the only one in the province, so we’re really lucky to have that here.”

The Sexual Assault Crisis Center offers a 24-hour crisis line, and can have staff accompany women to the police or the hospital if they chose to report the crime. They also offer free counseling services.

Fredericton is home to two universities. 68% of full-time students at St. Thomas University are female. With 82 % of sexual assault victims being women or girls, the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center is looking to better protect students in Fredericton.

Richard says the universities can do more during the first week of freshman year, known as Welcome Week, to educate students about sexual assaults and the services that are available to them.

According to Nicole Pozer, St. Thomas University’s Welcome Week Chair, there were no presentations or workshops to prepare students for the possibility of sexual assault in the 2011 Welcome Week.

“There were however, different pamphlets in the [Welcome Week] kits about staying protected, and the multiple pages within the STUgenda [a free agenda for all STU students] about Sexual Assault, which people have been making very positive comments on,” said Pozer.

But Richard said more can be done.

“I think we can do a better job in getting our information out and letting people know that these resources do exist in Fredericton,” she said.

Richard says the Crisis Center is in the early stages of developing a joint program with the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University to provide better services to students who have been sexually assaulted, and help students prepare for the possibility of an attack.

“We want to develop a plan on how to respond to sexual assault on campus. We’ve had a lot of support from the university including the president of STU who is supporting this and we’re looking forward to working with them,” Richard said.

Although the program hasn’t found funding yet, the proposed idea will see the center more involved on campus.

“We’ll be looking at what the specific needs are on campus, what are the gaps, what are the challenges that people have seeking services and seeing how we can work together.”

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