Making sense of sexual assault data


Kathleen Wynne recently introduced a new bill she believes will curb sexual assaults in Ontario. The plan, proposed last week in time for international women’s day will cost the province $41 million.

Sexual assault is widespread in Canada, according to 2013 statistics gathered by Statistics Canada there were 23,311 sexual assaults. This is of particular concern in Canada’s largest province Ontario, which saw 7,677 sexual assaults in the same year, accounting for nearly one-third or 32.93 percent of sexual assaults in Canada that year.

These numbers are abstract and don’t do justice to the severity of the problem. In fact, if you take the numbers provided above and compare them to a state like New York south of the border, you may assume New York has more people and thus a higher potential for assaults of this nature. And if you think this, you would be correct. However, when you take the raw numbers and adjust them per 100,000 people to eliminate the variable population presents we find that Ontario sees more sexual assaults then New York. For every 100,000 people Ontario sees 56.68 sexual assaults, whereas New York sees 14.6 sexual assaults.

To be fair, Ontario and New York have completely different definitions of sexual assault. In Canada, sexual assault is defined by the Canadian criminal code. And the Ontario Human Rights Code defines sexual harassment. Under Canadian Criminal Law, sexual assault is defined as an assault in which the victim’s sexual integrity is violated. The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines sexual assault as a type of discrimination based on sex. On the other hand, New York State defines sexual assault differently and is more specific. For instance, sexual misconduct is defined as a male engaging in sexual intercourse with a female without consent.

Moreover, within Ontario, there is Ryerson University, and Ryerson University faces serious challenges when dealing with sexual assault. Ryerson, despite growing in popularity during the 10 year reign of school President Sheldon Levy, the school finds itself in the top spot for the number of reported sexual assaults of all universities across Canada. According to data collected by CBC, Ryerson has seen 57 reported sexual assaults between 2009 and 2013. For the sake of comparison, University of Toronto has seen 34.

That may not seem like a serious disparity, but consider this, Ryerson is not UofT; that is to say, it is not Canada’s largest university with a student population of more than 75,000, it has less than a third of that with a full-time undergraduate student population of fewer than 25,000. This is important to consider because when we look at the number of sexual assaults at Ryerson per 10,000 students, Ryerson sees nearly 5 sexual assaults, while UofT sees less than 1.

In a separate article the CBC provided a disclaimer saying the data collected from the institutions including Ryerson and UofT represents assaults defined differently by each university. Ryerson draws its definition from the criminal code, and UofT’s website, in referring to sexual assault, writes “under the law, you have the right to say no to any form of sexual activity. You have the right to say no to a date, partner, or spouse.”

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