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'A sad statement for Manitoba'

Sex offences against children highest here

Roz Prober

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Roz Prober

Manitoba has Canada's highest rate of sexual offences against children and youth.

A report released Wednesday by Statistics Canada shows Manitoba had a rate of police-reported sexual offences against children and youth of 316 per 100,000 in 2012.

That's higher than any other province. Canada has a national rate of 205 sexual offences per 100,000 and the rate of sexual offences against children dropped for a second straight year.

Roz Prober, co-founder of Beyond Borders, a Winnipeg-based national organization that supports the rights of children to be free from sexual abuse and exploitation, said she is "disappointed about the statistics."

"It's a sad state of affairs for Manitoba to have that many children sexually assaulted. It's the hardest crime to combat.

"It's a sad statement for Manitoba."

Manitoba was followed closely by Saskatchewan, which had 306 police-reported sexual offences against children and youth.

Both provinces saw the statistics driven up by the high numbers of offences against girls, with a rate in Manitoba of 541 police-reported victims of sexual offences for every 100,000, and 528 in Saskatchewan.

Overall, the report found that nationally, almost nine in 10 victims knew the attacker; 44 per cent of victims said the accused was an acquaintance and 38 per cent said it was a family member.

Nationally, two-thirds of abused children from birth to three years were abused by a family member, while more than half of youths aged 16 or 17 years of age were attacked by acquaintances.

About 26 per cent of the sexual offences against children or youth were reported in 2012, but happened in previous years.

Lawyer David Matas, also with Beyond Borders, said the statistics show Manitoba needs to do more.

"What the statistics show is we need to give this crime an even higher priority, both to preventing the crime and to do much more education about how awful the crime is," he said.

"This effects the whole lives of children who are victimized."

The Statistics Canada report also came up during question period at the legislature on Wednesday.

Tory justice critic Kelvin Goertzen accused the government of not doing enough to address the issue and said programs in place "are not working. "Why after 14 years in government has this government, after so many announcements, not been able to get this under control and ensure that less people, less young people, less children are the victims of child sexual abuse?" Goertzen asked.

"It's time to stop coming up with excuses and actually have a plan that will reduce this number."

Justice Minister Andrew Swan said the province has taken many measures to combat the crime and help its victims, including hiring more social workers, police officers and Crown attorneys to address the issue. He said it has also, with the federal government, set up the Children's Advocacy Centre to provide a child-friendly place for victims to meet with police investigators and victim-service providers.

"When a child comes forward with disclosure, you want to make sure you have all the services in place," he said.

Swan also credited the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection -- which had no one available to speak with the media on Wednesday -- for setting up various programs to help young victims.

"The hope is to protect children, but also to empower children," Swan said.

"We want any child who has been abused to feel safe and feel they have been taken seriously."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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