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May 4, 2006


Sexual Assault Prevention Month

Hansard - Minister Pupatello, MPPs Julia Munro & Andrea Horwath on Sexual Assault Prevention Month

May 2, 2006

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): The Minister of Education.

Hon. Sandra Pupatello (Minister of Education, minister responsible for women's issues): And minister responsible for women's issues; thanks so much. I would like to ask for unanimous consent today so that all parties may address Sexual Assault Prevention Month.

The Speaker: Ms. Pupatello has asked for unanimous consent for all parties to speak for up to five minutes to recognize Sexual Assault Prevention Month. Agreed? Agreed.

Hon. Ms. Pupatello: May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month in Ontario. This is a time for all of us to renew our commitment to ending the sexual violence that devastates the lives of far too many women and girls in Ontario. It's a time for us to move from a focus on intervention after the violence has occurred to a focus on preventing violence from happening in the first place, changing the attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate it. We hope that is a signal and a message we have repeated often in this House.

Our government is helping vulnerable women by improving supports for victims of sexual assault. Victims have the right to receive timely and effective treatment. Last year, we implemented the first funding increase to our sexual assault centres in 13 years. We're providing a total of $12.5 million annually so that sexual assault victims get the community supports they need. I'm pleased to say that, in addition, we made a special one-time investment earlier this year of $1.3 million for enhancements in sexual assault agencies across Ontario. And I always thank the Attorney General of Ontario for working in tandem with our offices to assist in this sector.

A real improvement depends on much more than funding. Solving the problem depends on not just supporting the victims but on preventing them from being victimized in the first place. We really do need to change attitudes and behaviours on individual and societal levels. We need to teach our children about the importance of healthy, equal relationships. If boys grow up knowing they need to respect women and girls, if girls grow up with the confidence that they can stand up for themselves and others, if all children grow up believing in and practising gender equality, we're going to make great progress in eradicating the power imbalance that's always at the root of sexual assault. Each of us has a role to play in this, from parents to teachers, neighbours and friends. We have a role to play in modelling respectful behaviour toward women and children.

I'd also like to mention the daisy campaign, which today we've already asked permission to wear in the House. I hope that all of us will take time to wear this daisy throughout this month. Nova Vita, the shelter in Brantford, of which our own member Dave Levac has been a long-time supporter, does some tremendous work. They actually began this daisy campaign to help promote the notion that all of us have to be a part of the solution. We congratulate volunteers like the board that leads Nova Vita, because there are so many organizations with an equal amount of passion in this area throughout Ontario. These pins help us recognize the incredible work of women's shelters across the province. Let's proudly wear the pin as a sign of all our resolve to keep working together to eliminate all forms of violence against women. Let's not rest until this task is done.

Mrs. Julia Munro (York North): I'm pleased to be able to speak on behalf of the Progressive Conservative caucus in recognizing Sexual Assault Prevention Month in Ontario. This month has been recognized in Ontario since 1988, and it's a way to create public awareness of sexual assault and to improve the prevention of violence against women and children.

All parties in this House are committed to ending violence of all kinds. We must provide strong leadership to ensure that women and children have the support they need and that the perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes. We must ensure that public education teaches the important lesson that violence must stop, that it has a devastating impact on women's lives and the lives of our children, our families, our communities and our country.

The cost in dollars and cents is minor compared to the incalculable costs of damage to human dignity and self-esteem. For women who have suffered the pain, whose potential has been destroyed, whose spirits have been crushed, we must commit ourselves to preventing the violence. Crisis intervention workers, front-line workers in shelters, police and health workers can all attest to the damaging effect this has on our neighbourhoods and our communities. The effects of this violence are both long-term and far-reaching.

Each one of us, individually and together, must take responsibility and must continue to work to build safe homes, safe communities and safe workplaces. Sexual assault can take place between intimates, dating partners, friends, acquaintances or strangers. Rapes committed by acquaintances of the victims are the most common form of sexual assault.

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Unfortunately, sexual assaults occur much more frequently than we know, because they are not always reported. More than one third of Canadian women report having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 16. Victimization surveys suggest that only 10% of women -- or fewer -- who are sexually assaulted report these assaults to the police. In cases reported to police, 80% of sexual assault victims knew the accused. They were friends, acquaintances or family members. Children and young people under the age of 17 account for 61% of sexual assault cases reported to police. About three quarters of these victims were girls, and more than two thirds of these girls were between 11 and 17 years of age.

These statistics are indeed chilling. They must spur us to continue to take action to fight the crime of sexual assault. As legislators, we must do our part, along with the courts, law enforcement, social agencies and individual citizens. In my own riding of York North, I would like to acknowledge the work of the York region abuse program in Newmarket, which offers hope and healing to people of all ages affected by childhood sexual abuse.

Sexual assault is a crime. It is not simply something undesirable or unfortunate; it is a violation of the rights of women and girls, as citizens, to feel secure in their homes, workplaces, in public, at school. It must be stopped.

Ms. Andrea Horwath (Hamilton East): I'm pleased to rise to take note of Sexual Assault Prevention Month on behalf of New Democrats here in the Legislature today.

The statistics on sexual assault are stark: Two out of three women have experienced sexual assault; 38% of sexually assaulted women were assaulted by their husbands, common-law partners or boyfriends; four out of five female undergraduates surveyed at Canadian universities said they had been victims of violence in a dating relationship; 29% reported incidents of sexual assault; 22% of women who have been victims never tell anyone.

Ontario sexual assault centres are still recovering from the 5% cut to their operating budgets a few years ago.

We need to see real action on changing laws to better protect women and avert potential tragedies. We'd like to see more done in the schools to combat sexual assault and date rape. That problem is largely hidden, as few of these crimes are actually reported. According to Statistics Canada, only 6% of all sexual assaults are reported to police. Only 1% of women who have been sexually assaulted by an acquaintance report the incident to police. In Canada in 1998, 82.6% of victims in reported cases of sexual assault were women; 98% of the accused were men.

Men who commit sexual assault come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. Men who commit sexual assault can be doctors, teachers, employers, co-workers, lawyers, husbands, student colleagues or relatives of the women they assault. Here's another troubling statistic: In a recent survey on date rape, 60% of Canadian college-age males indicated that they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they would not get caught.

Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 21 are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted. In 70% of the reported cases of sexual assault, the victim knew the accused, and 62% of the victims were under the age of 18. If they are sexually assaulted, it will most likely be by a boy or a man who is a friend, a family member or someone else they know -- probably not by a stranger.

Part of this month is about communicating the risks and repercussions of sexual assault. It's also about making sure that girls and women know unconditionally that as a society, as women and as men, we will not, do not and can never condone this behaviour, and we will stand by them. They must report, but we must be there to support them throughout their experience with the justice system and throughout their ongoing time of healing after that, through supporting the women's centres and the sexual assault centres across the province that they will turn to for help.

I believe all of this should be happening throughout the year. Unfortunately, school is not the happy, safe place for many students that people might like to think it is. For some, school are the place where bullying, racism and sexist violence is taking place. That's why all of us supported the Miss G project when it came here not too long ago, having women's studies and women's issues built into the secondary school curriculum. Seeing that the Minister of Education is also the minister responsible for women's issues, I look forward to hearing her announce the mandated women's studies course in Ontario high schools at some point. That's one of the ways we can create a culture of respect for women, by taking their concerns and contributions seriously and giving them the permanent profile they deserve.

Sexual assault centres in Ontario, like the one in Hamilton and area, very much need additional funding to work with women from our diverse communities, reaching out in their own languages to help them deal with sexual abuse and assault. Hamilton is the third-largest immigrant-receiving community in Canada. We need to remove some of the financial barriers that prevent cities like mine from offering services to their diverse communities.

Governments can't do enough and aren't doing enough on this priority file, but I know that today we're all recommitting to making sure that we increase the interest and the attention we pay to this most serious issue. It's our children, it's our daughters, it's our nieces, and it's our nephews and our sons whom this issue deals with every single day, in our communities, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our dances and in places where young people gather. It's unacceptable.

We know that women's groups have long called for more action. We know that coroner's juries have long called for more action. I'm pleased to be here today, knowing that every one of the members sitting in this Legislature is committed to ending sexual violence in Ontario.

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Posted: Thursday May 4, 2006, 2:26 pm
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