OPP say 2021 ‘highest year on record’ for sexual assaults reported in Northwestern Ontario
Tim Brody - Editor
WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have shared that, 2021 was the “highest year on record” for sexual assaults reported to the OPP in the North West Region.
According to police, from January 1 to December 31, 2021, approximately 429 sexual assaults were reported, a 31 percent increase from 2020, with 327 incidents having been reported.
Broken down by the detachment that investigated these incidents, this includes:
- 26 - Dryden OPP;
- 51 - Rainy River OPP;
- 41 - Greenstone OPP;
- 85 - Kenora OPP;
- 18 - Marathon OPP;
- 14 - Nipigon OPP;
- 58 - Red Lake OPP;
- 112 - Sioux Lookout OPP; and,
- 24 - Thunder Bay OPP.
Detective Staff Sergeant Dayna Wellock, Victim Response Support Unit – North West Region Lead / North West Region Crime Prevention and Investigation, said that the Sioux Lookout OPP Detachment oversees operations in Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Wapekeka First Nation, and Weagamow Lake First Nation. The cases reported for the Sioux Lookout OPP Detachment, she stated, are the total among the five communities.
Tana Troniak, Executive Director for First Step Women’s Shelter and Nahnahda-wee-ee-waywin (Sioux Lookout Sexual Assault and Counselling Centre), stated, “Some of the cases are coming from the north, but there’s a lot here in town. It’s here.”
Troniak added, “I think we have a lot of cases of sexual assaults in our communities and our community itself. I do know about three of four homeless women that have told us, even through the drop-in centre, things like that, that they were assaulted, that never go to the police.”
Police shared that according to an April 2019 report from the Department of Justice, it is estimated that only five per cent of the victims will report a sexual assault incident to police.
Troniak said, “I do know that’s true because I get women in the shelter all the time that don’t report it. It doesn’t get reported.”
Wellock believes that may be changing, “I also do feel that people are becoming more and more comfortable coming forward. I feel that people are becoming more and more aware of sexual crimes.”
She continued, “People are starting to realize, this happened to me, I think I should report it. Naturally through social media and the media, people are becoming more aware that this is an issue… I think with respect to the OPP, I think we’ve made great strides in trying to change how we do business in terms of handling sexual assault cases and in particular, our victims and our survivors, who are appreciating trauma informed (officers) and we’re trying to get that education and knowledge out there, that we’re survivor and victim friendly. A place to reach out.”
Ontario Provincial Police shared in an April 6 media release that, “The OPP takes allegations of sexual assault and violence seriously and is dedicated to enhancing their response and support for victims. The (OPP’s) Victim Response Support Unit (VRSU) provides guidance to members to ensure Sexual Assault investigations achieve the best possible outcomes for victims. In 2021, they developed, “Using a Trauma Informed Approach” training, which was mandatory learning for all members. This training focused on defining trauma and a trauma-informed approach, the role of law enforcement, impacts of training and coping mechanisms. Additional training includes the Sexual Assault Interviewer Program, which has led to positive results in the OPP’s approach and response to these incidents across North West Region.”
Police also shared that, “Since 2018, VRSU members have been working collaboratively with the Regional Collaborative Review Committee (RCRC). This Committee includes representatives from victim services, child protection services, cultural advocates and victim advocate / support groups. RCRC holds monthly meetings to review sexual assault investigations to identify systemic issues and trends. “Additionally, this committee helps to ensure compliance with the Victims’ Bill of Rights, which stipulates that every victim should have access to information regarding their case and support services.”
In 2017, 107 sexual assaults were reported to the Sioux Lookout OPP Detachment. In 2018, 103 sexual assaults were reported to Sioux Lookout OPP. Those numbers dropped during the pandemic with 91 sexual assaults reported in 2019 and 80 sexual assault reported in 2020. In 2021, 112 sexual assaults were reported to Sioux Lookout OPP.
Wellock said Sioux Lookout OPP, having seen the increase in numbers in 2021, have implemented a pilot project, “engaging our community partners to try and address it and look at what’s going on. Are there things we could be doing in the community to reduce those numbers?”
Nahnahda-wee-ee-waywin (Sioux Lookout Sexual Assault and Counselling Centre) offers counselling services, crisis support and advocacy, sexual assault counselling, family violence counselling, mental health support, addictions support, human trafficking support, groups/workshops, hospital, police and court accompaniments and public education.
They offer 24 hour support. People can call or text the program at 807-737-4848 or call their toll-free crisis line at 1-833-864-4848.
Troniak emphasized that Nahnahda-wee-ee-waywin is an inclusive service, offering support to all victims of sexual assault.
Troniak said she is trying to get a nurse for the program, as she said, the hospital, “won’t do a rape kit with a woman who has been drinking or is intoxicated.”
She added, “You can’t expect women, or men, or youth to just come out and pour out all of that stuff… can you imagine being sexually assaulted and then you have to go and tell the admitting person (at the hospital) what’s happened, and then you have to go back and tell the nurse… it needs to be streamed some other way into the hospital because women get hurt too and men. We do have men that we are seeing at our sexual assault centre for counselling and past abuse.”
“Dayna figures our numbers are up because we are out there saying, ‘We’ll support you and we have this place.’ Our sexual assault centre also has a soft room, so our police have full access to the building where they can interview survivors or victims where they don’t have to sit in a police station.”
She added, “I think the more we’re out there, the programming, like Dayna saying, ‘we believe you’, things like that, talking, using a different approach, we may actually see our numbers go up because we’re doing all of that… I think the other thing is I really want to try to figure out how we can bring women or men in from up north and where we can put them that they’re safe, because if my shelter is full for instance, and I can’t put them here, I can’t transfer them to another shelter.”
According to police, the most frequent reasons for not reporting sexual abuse were: the participants thought that they would not be believed, they felt ashamed or embarrassed, they did not know they could report the abuse, and they had no family support.
Police informed, “The OPP encourages all citizens to educate themselves on sexual assault by visiting 1istoomany.ca. This webpage includes important information on consent, supports available to victims and the process for reporting sexual assault to police. Content is available in both English and Anishinaabemowin.
“To report a sexual assault to the Ontario Provincial Police, please call 1-888-310-1122 (toll-free in Ontario), or dial 9-1-1 in an emergency.”