CSAC director addresses sexual violence reporting

Published on February 16, 2017

Margaret Mauger

TRURO, N.S. – Margaret Mauger, executive director at the Colchester Sexual Assault Centre, is concerned about the rate of ‘unfounded’ sexual assault cases but feels local police are willing to make changes to improve things.

A Globe and Mail investigation into sexual assault cases across the country, from 2010 to 2014, put the unfounded (when it is determined that a criminal violation did not take place) rate in Truro at 55 per cent.

“Police are open to looking at what’s wrong and how to fix things,” said Mauger. “We have a good working relationship and they’re involved in the Sexual Violence Community Network. There’s interest and engagement on trying to understand and improve the process for survivors.

“There are a lot of myths, stereotypes and stigma within our culture and society. Police officers are affected because they’re people living in this culture.”

She said it’s important for police, as well as anyone else who works with trauma, to be trained in responding to disclosures of assault.

“People need to understand not everyone reacts the way they’d expect. Something like laughing doesn’t mean there’s deception. Some people laugh while telling about the most horrific experiences.”

Mauger noted that sexualized violence is much more prevalent than most people realize, with only about one in 10 reporting it, and fear of not being believed is one of the main reasons it’s kept quiet. Among survivors she’s counselled, the majority reported that family members didn’t believe them. Facing disbelief leads to further trauma.

“The criminal justice system needs an overhaul in regards to dealing with sexual assault/violence cases,” she said. “Ideally, there would be a separate division of court, like family court, to deal with sexual violence cases.”

The CSAC is holding a professional development event on trauma-informed practice and several agencies, including town police and RCMP, are participating.

“It’s a complex and pervasive issue with no easy solutions,” said Mauger. “We live in a hypersexualized and victim-blaming society and we need to focus on how we can work together to fix things.”