OPS launches sexual assault awareness campaign

The Ottawa Police Service has partnered with the Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa Victim Services and Young Womyn Project to hold a monthlong sexual assault and awareness campaign.

The OPS has declared that May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to an OPS press release, statistics show that at least one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime and it happens to transgender people and children as well. Sexual violence is a major public health, safety and criminal issue, and the OPS says it needs everyone’s help solving it.

The announcement comes a month after Barrhaven police officer Eric Post resigned after pleading guilty to five charges relating to violence against women.

Post was originally arrested and charged in the fall 2018 with 32 offences coming from seven women. The charges included sexual assault, forcible confinement, and uttering threats. Post was then suspended with pay from the Ottawa Police Service for two and a half years.

During a virtual court hearing on April 1, Post pleaded guilty to four charges of assault and one charge of uttering threats. The charges were from four of the seven women. The additional 27 charges were dropped, which included charges relating to one woman who died by suicide in September, 2020.

Ontario Court Justice Robert Wadden told the virtual courtroom that Post abused his position of authority and used it to obtain psychological control and domination of his victims.

Three women issued victim impact statements during the hearing and expressed some of the gruelling and controlling behaviour they dealt with from Post. Even now, years after the alleged incidents occurred, they say they still live in fear.

Inspector Heather Lachine, who heads the Special Investigations Section at OPS, says sexual awareness is an important issue every day, but police and community partners have come together this May to change attitudes and get help and justice for survivors.

“The line between consensual sexual contact and sexual assault is clear,” says Inspector Lachine. “We need to change views about sexual violence, so everyone understands that without consent, these actions are criminal.”

This two-prong approach places responsibility on perpetrators that sexual assault is a crime, is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. Secondly, the campaign promotes support for survivors that begins with believing them when they report it, then getting resources for them to heal and holding their assailants accountable.

“Whether you are assaulted by a stranger, an acquaintance, or you are in a relationship with this person, what happened to you is a crime,” adds Inspector Lachine. “It doesn’t matter if you were impaired by drugs or alcohol and you initially agreed to sexual contact. If you cannot consent or you take away your consent, that’s sexual assault.”

Through social media, OPS and partners will share videos, pictographs and messages about consent, assailant responsibility, survivor choices around healing and pursuing justice, and supports available in our community.

“You don’t have to go through this alone,” says Melissa Heimerl, Executive Director of OVS. “We take the time to explain all of your options to you and can help you navigate through the system to find the most appropriate supports.”

The OPS, OVS, Young Womyn Project and The Ottawa Hospital are calling on everyone to play a role in ending sexual violence. Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, it is always the responsibility of the assailant. We can all speak out to condemn sexual violence.