According to recently released statistics, overall crime in Vancouver is down 7.5 percent. Rates are down in all categories except sexual assault, which is up a staggering 21%. According to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, aggravated sexual assaults are up 600%, from a single reported case last year to seven this year. Overall, 303 sexual assaults have been reported in Vancouver so far this year, up from 246 in the same period last year.
At a press conference with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Jim Chu explained that many of the reported sexual assaults were gropings, or “non-violent sexual assaults.” This is what caught my eye – since when is groping not considered a form of violence? Unless consensual, groping is an attack on a person’s bodily integrity. As with other forms of sexual assault, groping can cause emotional and psychological harm to the victim. The possible impacts of non-consensual groping can be life-long, and should never be minimized.
It concerns me greatly that the magnitude of groping is being downplayed by the media. Sexual assault is never okay. Implying that groping is somehow less bad than rape contributes to the all too widespread impression that it is not a serious crime, that people who commit this form of sexual assault are somehow less culpable, or that victims aren’t seriously wounded by the experience. These kinds of sentiments just contribute to rape culture, and it horrifies me that the fact that gropings are so common in Vancouver is somehow being used to temper the announcement about sexual assault statistics.
Now, admittedly, it is possible that these sobering statistics do illustrate possible progress: there is a chance that reporting rates have increased. This would certainly be very good news, as it’s known that many women feel too ashamed to report sexual assaults to the police. However, I fear that reports like this, casting groping as non-violent, could serve to counteract any progress of this sort.
Jim Chu attributes the rise in sexual assaults partly to the growing popularity of Granville Street. However, he also admitted that incidents of groping were up across the city. While alcohol can, and does, contribute to sexual assaults, the true culprit is a culture that downplays sexual assault, as is happening right now. If we accept Chief Chu’s assertion that the majority of sexual assaults in Vancouver last year were non-violent, then we risk making groping okay. So, I’m going to call him out: there is no such thing as a non-violent sexual assault.