B.C. saw a 15 per cent jump in the number of sexual assaults reported to police in 2021, resulting in the greatest annual number on record.
The new data was released on Monday (Aug. 2) as part of Statistics Canada’s yearly report on crime, which revealed a significant increase in reported sexual assault across Canada.
Nationally, 34,242 sexual assaults were reported in 2021, in an 18 per cent jump from 2020. That amounts to 90 incidents per 100,000 people.
In B.C., the increase was slightly lower at 15 per cent. In total, 4,524 sexual assaults were reported last year, up from 3,890 in 2020 and 4,152 in 2019. That’s equivalent to 87 reports per 100,000 people, the second lowest 2021 rate in Canada, next to Ontario (76 per 100,000).
Of the four B.C. regions – Kelowna, Abbotsford/Mission, Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria – Stats Can released local numbers for, by far the greatest number occurred in Metro Vancouver. There, 1,674 sexual assaults were reported, followed by 478 in Greater Victoria, 240 in Kelowna and 147 in Abbotsford/Mission. The remaining 1,985 were reported in other unspecified areas of the province.
The statistics are almost certainly a significant underestimate of the actual number of sexual assaults that occur in B.C., however. The 2019 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety found 94 per cent of sexual assaults experienced by Canadians aged 15 and older are never reported to police.
Stats Canada noted that part of the jump between 2020 and 2021 could be explained by the changing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, people were more likely to be in lockdown or working or learning from home than last year.
“With widespread stay-at-home orders and overburdened hospital and medical care resources, it may have been more difficult for victims to come forward to report instances of sexual assault, and less likely that a third-party (for example a doctor or teacher) would identify signs of abuse, particularly for children and youth,” Stats Canada said.
The subsequent lifting of pandemic restrictions then may have increased the opportunity for strangers to commit sexual assaults, the agency added.
Across Canada, the highest number of reported sexual assaults in 2021 were in Ontario (11,233) and Quebec (7,825). The highest rates per 100,000, however, were in the territories. Nunavut and Northwest Territories both had rates above 500 per 100,000, compared to 275 in Yukon and around 100 per 100,000 everywhere else.