Eleven children have been sexually assaulted since February in Medicine Hat, in what police are calling a spike in occurrences.
According to the Medicine Hat Police Service, the number of assaults and sexual assaults on children in the city being investigated by the Major Crimes Unit ticked up to 13 between February and April.
Of those incidents, 11 were sexual assaults on children and two were physical assaults.
Police say three files have been deemed 'concerning behaviour by children' towards other children, which could be seen as childhood curiosity or something more serious.
Eight files were incidents of a child being sexually assaulted by an adult.
Officers say six files of sexual assault on a child remain under investigation, but have laid charges against three individuals.
Acting Major Crimes Staff Sergeant Ernie Fischhofer indicated that the numbers were not part of an upward trend in such cases, instead describing the incidents as a spike.
He also stated that none of the files were generated from an unknown person coming into the community, as all of the victims and accused in each file were known to one another.
“It translates to the nucleus of the family, whether it be mom's boyfriend involved, or whether it’s a sibling, a parent, an uncle,” said Fischhofer. “It’s very close in proximity. It isn’t strange people walking in and taking advantage of these people.”
Each file of child sexual assault was related to one victim, while two of the files were linked back to one aggressor.
Given the nature of the files, the names of the aggressors are not released by police.
There were no repeat offenders in the cases dating up until April 21.
“We would not release the names of the aggressors in this situation, because they are associated and/or related to the victims,” said Fischhofer. “Revealing their names would reveal the victims names.”
Fischhofer said incidents were reported in a variety of ways, including third-party notification to police by schools, and direct reports by family members.
Fischhofer indicated that the Major Crimes Unit uses a forensic interviewer when speaking with victims in these cases and said the safety of the victims are made on a case-by-case basis by Child and Family Services.
“If they were at home, and that would keep them vulnerable to situations, then they may be removed,” he said. “However, if it’s more not so close in proximity, it may be safe enough for them to remain at home. That’s Child and Family Services call, to do that.”
The decision to remove the aggressor in the situation would be evaluated the same way.
“In the least, if we are investigating a crime, and charges are not yet laid, there wouldn’t be conditions. However, Child and Family Services would make sure that the children were safe. Once charges are laid, it may be a case of conditions being applied to the accused as well,” he added.
Christina Johnson, the executive director of the Sexual Assault Response Committee, said spikes in sexual assault cases are a sign of members of the community feeling more comfortable in reporting the incidents.
“Sexual assault is a crime that commonly occurs,” she said. “When we see reporting rates go up, it shows that individuals are accessing those services, they know where to go and feel comfortable doing so. That shows us that services are working well, that they’re collaborating well.”
Fischhofer agreed with Johnson’s view, and said the agencies in Medicine Hat that deal with such matters are doing better in systemically liaising with one another.
“I think more things are coming to light that way,” said Fischhofer.
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