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Sexual assault victims in rural areas isolated from services

By Alisa Howlett [1]

BELLEVILLE – There are many barriers to reporting a sexual assault. Will people believe me? How do you prove consent? Am I to blame? But in rural communities these barriers exist along many others, the executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre for Quinte and District [2] said.

The centre extends services to seven areas: Hastings [3] and Prince Edward Counties [4]Belleville [5]Trenton [6]Picton [7]Madoc [8] and Bancroft [9]. Belleville is the only area that is considered urban, Executive Director Kim Charlebois said.

There is a difference in terms of victims reaching out for help in smaller communities vs. larger communities, Charlebois says, and isolation is a main factor. For example, people living on the outskirts of a community who need counselling and are hours away from a centre, she said, and “transportation is a huge issue for us in this area…and there is not a lot of public transit in the outlying areas.”

Transportation is required for counselling, but a 24-hour crisis phone-line is also available. However, some people in the far end of Bancroft don’t even have telephones, Charlebois said.

Lisa Warriner, the executive director of Victim Services Belleville [10], says she doesn’t think there is a connection between the difficulty of reporting a sexual assault and where the victim resides.

The support system here may not be as wide as in bigger cities, like Toronto [11], Charlebois said. People in bigger cities can reach out to several different agencies or places that provide support.

“People (in small communities) shouldn’t have to go to such great lengths, there should be more services available,” Charlebois said.

If you’re a victim of sexual assault, living in a small community can be a double-edge sword, she added.

“I have witnessed in small communities that people can really rally to support somebody, they can really come together,” she said. “Also, that type of tight-knit community can be incredibly non-supportive if they can’t embrace you. If there is victim-blaming then you can be shunned.”

According to a study by the Justice Department [12] on domestic violence in rural Canada [13] the rates of sexual assault perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members were higher in rural areas than in urban areas  in 2006 to 2008.

A different study by Statistics Canada [14] revealed in 2010 large urban centres generally had lower levels of family violence than small cities, towns and rural areas.