Groups underscore connection of sex assault to murder

A spate of high profile attacks against women has prompted frustrated advocacy groups to issue a call to action.

A spate of high profile attacks against women—the latest of which left an Okanagan teenager dead—has prompted frustrated advocacy groups to issue a call to action.

“For years we have been calling for a better response to sexual assault. In response, we’ve faced funding reductions, programs for survivors being dismantled, and the list of women and girls going missing or murdered keeps getting longer,” said Aimee Thompson, agency coordinator for the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, who issued a statement in conjunction with the Ending Violence Association of B.C.

“B.C. needs to start taking this issue seriously. Address the link between the deaths of women and girls in the context of sexual assault.”

Underscoring the connection between sexual assault and deadly violence, Thompson pointed out that the man police believe killed Armstrong teen Taylor Van Diest was already wanted for sexually assaulting an employee at the Garden of Eden in 2005.

Neil Snelson, who was recently convicted of manslaughter for the 1993 killing of Jennifer Cusworth, was on probation for his second conviction of indecent exposure when he killed the college student after a late-night party.

Had the system in place dealt with these violent men effectively, would their victims be alive?

“We need to ask questions like, how does our health care system respond when a victim comes forward?” she said.

“Some doctors have a lot of training, others not too much. How much training do police officers get when it comes to sexual offences?”

Two officers at the Kelowna detachment have training specific to sexual crimes, but Thompson said that’s not enough. “If you were raped today, you’d get a general duty officer to report to.”

Systemic problems, she said, are exacerbated by the cultural view of sexual violence, and victims of sexual assault. “When it comes to drinking and driving, we don’t tell sober drivers to be vigilant and not get hit by drinking drivers,” she said. “We do the opposite and we tell the victims to be vigilant.”

This, she said, could be what’s leading to rising rates of sexual assault. Police reported sexual assaults rose by five per cent last year. Criminal harassment, stalking and child porn rates are also on the rise.

Developing effective responses to sexual assault, such as comprehensive strategic planning and implementation of policy at the provincial level could help ebb the flow of assaults, Thompson said.

Also key is enhanced specialized training for justice, health, social service and victim service workers on the dynamics of sexual assault, the needs of survivors, and best practices for investigation, prosecution, and intervention.

Meanwhile, Nov. 25 marked the first of a 16-day campaign by the Elizabeth Fry Society aimed at ending violence against women. That effort will culminate Dec. 6, when they hosts their annual candlelight vigil to remember women victims of violence.