Werklund School of Education
April 16, 2019
Werklund School researcher looks to improve process for reporting sexual violence
Approximately 90 per cent of sexual violence incidents that occur in Canada are not disclosed. Werklund School of Education graduate student Christy Sander is working to change this surprising statistic.
“Reporting sexual violence is typically the first step in finding out which services are available,” says Sander, who is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Counselling Psychology. “It is difficult to reach out and support survivors who do not report sexual violence, so the number of people accessing resources is greatly reduced.”
Finding a better way
Sander wants to speak with post-secondary students who divulged offences of a sexual nature to their post-secondary institution in order to gain greater insight into their experiences and improve the practice for others who choose to step forward.
“Because reporting can be intimidating, frightening, and unsettling, any information that can make this process easier will be helpful. If we can look at how to improve this process for people, it should increase the likelihood that others will report in the future.”
In addition to fears of being revictimized by the legal process, factors that contribute to under-reporting include a lack of education on what constitutes sexual violence and what policies exist to aid survivors, she explains.
“As well, under-reporting can be due to individuals feeling ashamed or embarrassed, being fearful they will not be believed or having concerns about confidentiality. Some may also feel responsible for the incident, especially in situations where drugs or alcohol are used.”
Post-secondary students at greater risk
Sander chose to focus her study specifically on post-secondary institutions as she believes their nature — clear power differentials and a large population of young adults experiencing life away from home for the first time — contributes to estimates that peg the prevalence of sexual violence at approximately five times higher among students than the general public.
“Students living on campus in residence have the highest rates of victimization. The University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre put out a survey to their students and found that, of the sexual assault incidents that occurred on campus, close to 74 per cent took place in or near a university residence building,” she says.
Listening to survivors
While Sander wants to make a lasting change in regard to student safety, she is clear that her work is about more than numbers. “The people who have revealed an instance of sexual violence to a university know best what helped and what hindered their experience. Their voices should be considered when creating new policies; I hope to help share their voices through this research.”
As a result of the #MeToo movement and post-secondary institutions throughout the province enacting policies addressing sexual offences, Sander believes these voices now stand a better chance of being heard.
“It is an ideal time to do research like this. There is a lot of research coming out in this area and the more we can work together and learn, the more we can to help make a difference. I want to share my findings with those who support those impacted by sexual violence and help advocate for change.”
Sander is interesting in speaking to students in Alberta who have reported an incident of sexual violence to their post-secondary institution.
If you think you have experienced sexual violence, or know someone who has, visit the Sexual Violence Support website for campus and community resources. You can also arrange a confidential consultation with Carla Bertsch, the university’s sexual violence support advocate, by confidential email.