May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month in Alberta and the Pace Centre in Grande Prairie wants to keep the conversation going, reminding everyone that sexual violence is still a major issue in society.
The organization cites that in 2020, the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services found by age 18, 44 per cent of girls and 24 per cent of boys experienced an unwanted sexual act; 41 per cent of females and 18 per cent of males over the age of 18 had experienced sexual assault.
Executive Director Jacquie Aitken has been with Pace for 40 years now.
“I think what’s really important is to make the community aware that if we do not deal with the trauma caused by sexual violence early in childhood, we’re going to be picking up the pieces in both physical and mental health in the future. A lot of times, that healing journey can take up to 20 years,” she says.
Dealing with sexual violence requires people to hold others accountable. Even though it can be difficult to deal with, society needs to take swift and appropriate action.
“It’s something we don’t talk about enough and too much still exists. If you look at the ASAAS study of the incidents of sexual abuse in Alberta, the average was 45 per cent of Albertans have been sexually abused. In Northern Alberta, it was higher at 49 per cent,” she says.
The Adverse Childhood Experience study is another important piece, which followed 27,000 people.
“What they found was that if you had childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or if you’ve watched your mother be abused, someone in your family in jail or someone in your family with addiction, mental health issue or divorce is that you have an ever-increasing risk of having emotional and physical problems in the future,” she explains.
“If someone has experienced six or more of those, they lose 20 years of their life. If they have five of those or more, they are eight times more likely to develop an addiction. It is also tied with potential heart disease.”
The healing process is a journey, but Aitken says it’s well worth it to work with people who have experienced sexual violence.
“Victims of abuse can heal and take back their power and go on with their life. That work is hard, but it can be done and it’s worth doing,” she adds.
On May 24th, Pace is asking people to wear teal in observance of Sexual Awareness Month. By wearing teal, society can collectively raise more awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities and how to take action to stop it.
If you know someone that is experiencing or has experienced sexual violence, the Pace Centre can be reached at 1-866-403-8000.