Canada’s ap­proach to sex­ual as­sault could hold lessons for U.S.

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Adam Ko­vac

MON­TREAL – As re­ports of celebrity sex­ual as­saults es­ca­late in the United States, Amer­i­cans might want to look to its north­ern neigh­bor for clues as to why it’s less of a prob­lem in Canada.

The rate of re­ported sex­ual as­saults and rapes in Canada is roughly half that in the U.S. There were 431,840 such re­ports in the United States in 2015, ac­cord­ing to a Jus­tice De­part­ment sur­vey. By con­trast, Statis­tics Canada showed that 22,000 as­saults were re­ported to po­lice that year in a coun­try with one-tenth the pop­u­la­tion of the USA.

Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Ce­cilia Benoit said a lower

num­ber of sex­ual as­saults in Canada fit into a larger trend of fewer vi­o­lent crimes in the coun­try in gen­eral.

“It’s partly cul­tural and partly the way the rules and reg­u­la­tions and so­cial pol­icy work in Canada,” she said. “The so­cial net is a lit­tle bit tighter in Canada. Guns laws are very dif­fer­ent. Com­mu­nity co­he­sion is stronger with less in­di­vid­u­al­ism. We’ve seen that be­fore when we do com­par­isons on mur­der rates and those kinds of things.”

Alex McKay, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sex In­for­ma­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Coun­cil of Canada, said the coun­try has made strides in teach­ing lessons about sex­ual con­sent.

In ad­di­tion, “sex ed­u­ca­tion is on av­er­age likely bet­ter than what it is in Amer­i­can schools be­cause it tends to be less ide­o­log­i­cally driven,” said McKay, who added that Canada has a more pro­gres­sive at­ti­tude to­ward sex­u­al­ity.

Holly John­son, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa who spe­cial­izes in the jus­tice sys­tem’s re­sponse to sex­ual vi­o­lence, notes that the def­i­ni­tion of sex­ual as­sault is dif­fer­ent in each coun­try.

In the United States, sex­ual as­sault is “any type of sex­ual con­tact or be­hav­ior that oc­curs with­out the ex­plicit con­sent of the re­cip­i­ent,” ac­cord­ing to the Jus­tice De­part­ment web­site. It can in­clude “forced sex­ual in­ter­course, forcible sodomy, child mo­lesta­tion, in­cest, fondling, and at­tempted rape.”

In Canada, sex­ual as­saults are di­vided into three cat­e­gories, with the vast ma­jor­ity clas­si­fied as those that leave lit­tle or no phys­i­cal in­jury to the vic­tim. In 2015, just over 400 re­ported in­ci­dents were clas­si­fied as as­saults that re­sult in bod­ily harm, maim­ing, dis­fig­ur­ing or in­volved the use of a weapon.

John­son warned against read­ing too much into the dis­par­ity in num­bers, how­ever, be­cause many as­saults go un­re­ported, in Canada and in the United States alike.

“You’re talk­ing about po­lice re­ports, you’re not talk­ing about vic­tim­iza­tion,” she said. “Only 5% of Cana­dian women who were sex­u­ally as­saulted re­port it to po­lice.”

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