Friday, October 22, 2010

A sad, sorry, state of statistics

From the report on CBC as I drove in this morning, crime in Edmonton has dropped by a significant amount (18%) in the last year, but sexual assaults have risen 37%. The police stated they feel this was due to a higher incidence of reports, but I find this answer unsatisfying and after doing some research, downright confusing.

Statscan shows the amount of reported level two assaults with a weapon or causing bodily harm as increasing steadily since 1983 when the statistics start, up through 2008 since more recent statistics are notably hard to report in a timely fashion. The next step in assault, level three, has been slowly dropping over the same time period. It is possible, from these statistics, to conclude that Canada is getting less violent, since less violent level three cases would be reported as level  two cases. If we see a drop in level two assaults once level three has leveled off, this could be a pretty safe conclusion. Overall crime reported in Alberta dropped 7% last year, including a 6% drop (on average) between all three levels of sexual assault.

However, the Edmonton police report shows a 26% drop in reported sexual assaults in 2009, but current numbers, compared to the same time frame from last year, demonstrate a 37% jump in reported incidents for 2010. Even accounting for normal fluctuations in crime rates, that's unbelievable. Unless there has been some new system for reporting sexual assaults, or some new societal view of reporting assaults, it is unreasonable to assume it is due to higher reporting.

I was hoping to obtain some information from the sexual assault center of Edmonton (SACE) but their latest report is from the year 2008, so it is somewhat outdated and may not be relevant to the current numbers. Their report did show, however, that 85% off victims were under the age of 18 and that 46% of the time, the perpetrator was a parent. SACE has, despite this evidence, announced they would be sparking a new campaign aimed at men 18 to 24 (the group they say is most likely to offend) within bars and other places where alcohol is present, since alcohol is related to 44% of cases. Please note the phrase "Alcohol - related" refers to any incident where alcohol was mentioned in any context. It is possible they are taking this stand because the "Zebra" and "little warriors" programs are focusing on child abuse.

The recent rise  in reported cases is uncomfortable at best, and I have to wonder, if it is a copycat effect brought on by the recent highlighting of the Russell Williams case. Even under the media attention, Mr. Williams was able to lead a second life of depravity and crime, and would not have been caught were it not for a distinctive tire tread pattern. Not only is this incredibly unsettling, but other people, who have perhaps been struggling with violent urges, may gain courage from this fact. This raises the question of the media's accountability in such cases. Although we the public like to be informed, and in some cases should be informed, we forget that not every serial criminal's case is the last one, and that future people may take information or encouragement from current trials.

On the other hand, it also allows us all to take a look at the inner workings of criminal investigations. This man was caught because he had a distinct tire tread and he was detained at a roadblock specifically to check tire treads. But the vast majority of cases do not have distinctive features; indeed, most of the unsolved cases have no distinguishing features, which is why first time or only time killers walk free the majority of times.

There is also the fact of how the younger generation are viewing, or perceive, sexual assault. The recent incident in B.C, where a young girl was sexually assaulted by several males at a house party, is indicative of a cavalier, immature view of sexual assault. The attack was recorded, and subsequently posted on facebook. When it is necessary for the RCMP to tell people that the recordings constitute child pornography, that the girl was, in fact, sexually assaulted, and that they would be investigating, it is clear that somewhere along the line, someone failed at parenting.

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