In an effort to encourage individuals to report sexual assaults that occurred more than a week earlier, the Edmonton Police Service has launched a web tool that provides another way to file a complaint.
“Every year a large number of sexual assaults go unreported. If we can make it easier for just a few of those victims to share with us, we’ll consider this a success,” Staff Sgt. Terrie Affolder, with the EPS Sexual Assault Section, said in a news release Wednesday.
“Walking into a police station can be difficult, so giving victims the ability to choose when and how they report makes us hopeful we’ll hear from them.”
The web-based reporting tool is for what police term “historic” sexual assaults — ones that occurred seven or more days previously and in which there is no longer any physical evidence that can be collected.
The tool allows individuals to decide whether they are submitting a report for investigation or for information. Once the details are recorded, the report is sent directly to the EPS Sexual Assault Centre.
Previously, individuals could go to a hospital and report the assault to a Sexual Assault Reponse Team (SART) nurse or to the EPS non-emergency telephone number.
Police say those options are still strongly recommended for victims who have experienced an assault within the past seven days, since there may still be evidence that can be collected, the news release said.
It has been used 10 times since the online reporting tool was soft-launched on the Edmonton Police Service website in November.
In 2019, 1,057 cases of sexual assault were reported in Edmonton. To date this year, 78 cases have been reported. According to Statistics Canada, only one in 20 sexual assault cases is reported to police.
“Though the non-emergency line remains the primary way to report, the addition of a web-based tool makes reporting more accessible for some,” the news release said. “EPS hopes that providing another option encourages victims to come forward.”
The tool will be monitored for the next few months. Similar web-based systems have been developed by police services in Windsor and Hamilton, Ont.
The CEO of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton said she’s hopeful that online reporting option will increase people’s comfort level in reporting an incident.
“When a person experiences sexual assault, their power is taken from them,” Mary Jane James said in the police news release. “One of the most important things we can do to help survivors reclaim that power is give them options about what happens next.”