It’s hard to believe that an increase in the number of sex-related crimes reported in Toronto can be seen in a positive light. But it can.
That’s because the experts don’t believe it reflects an increase in the actual number of sex crimes — crime overall is down in the city — but rather an increase in the number of people coming forward to report them.
And that is good news. It means women and men are less afraid to report crimes that in the past have had shame and stigma attached to them. And it should result in more offenders being held accountable for their actions.
That doesn’t mean all victims are coming forward. Far from it. Research by University of Ottawa professor Holly Johnson released four years ago shows how few sex crimes get reported and how even fewer are prosecuted. She found that 460,000 women told a Statistics Canada survey in 2004 that they had been victims of sexual assault, but only 15,200 reported it to police, 5,544 charges were laid, only 2,824 cases were prosecuted and only 1,519 offenders were convicted.
Despite those bleak numbers, the Toronto Star’s analysis of sexual offences reported to Toronto police show an increase every year since 2007. In 2014, the police logged 1,890 reports of offences, up from the 1,313 reported in 2007.
The trend to reporting sex crimes to police hasn’t happened overnight. Experts believe it’s the fruition of decades of work. As criminologist Rosemary Gartner explains: “We are talking about it more, we are blaming the victim less, and the public awareness has encouraged victims to come forward.”
Still the Star’s data reveals a separate troubling trend: more sex crimes are reported in Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods.
That’s due to several factors. One is that areas with high turnovers of poor residents that are underserviced by social services are more likely to be associated with sex crimes.
Another is the opportunity those neighbourhoods present to would-be offenders: not enough street lighting or a higher percentage of vacant properties.
A third factor is that those most likely to experience sexual assault are girls under 18 who are black, indigenous or have a disability. And they are more likely to be living in poor neighbourhoods. “Power is at play here and young racialized women are easy targets,” says Deb Singh, a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.
That said, those girls are bravely fighting back by reporting the crimes to police in greater numbers. They are to be commended.