They’re young, vulnerable and, unfortunately, silent.

Victims of sexual assault were on hand during an event at Province House Thursday. Denise Peterson-Rafuse, minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, read a proclamation from Premier Darrell Dexter recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness month.

Irene Smith, executive director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, said it’s the first such event at Province House recognizing sexual violence.

“This event at Province House gives people permission to talk about sexual violence that so many people face.”

Avalon Centre provides counselling as well as legal advice and health assistance to victims.
Several agencies are supporting a new “ask” campaign to get people — especially youth to — “ask me if I want to.”

The campaign is also aimed at empowering victims to ask about resources available to help them. Cards, bar stamps and posters will be distributed to places where young people socialize over the next few months.

“Nobody wants to talk about it and that’s part of the problem,” said Peterson-Rafuse.

“Victims of sexual crimes are some of the most vulnerable and silent people in our society.”

Supt. Don Spicer said Halifax Regional Police have a dedicated unit to investigate sexual assault, and half the files they investigate involve children.

RCMP Insp. Joanne Crampton said officers talk to teachers on how to spot victims, as well as educate kids on healthy relationships.

“If we’re going to prevent these acts from occurring and hold those responsible accountable, we need to ensure victims are comfortable in coming forward to police,” Crampton said.

Anne Macrae, executive director of the provincial Disabled Person’s Commission, said disabled women face an even higher risk of sexual assault. Like many sexual assault victims, disabled women know their attacker but since in many cases it’s their caretaker, they’re less likely to come forward.

Sexual assault statistics
• About 88 per cent of sexual assaults in Canada are not reported to police.

• In 65 per cent of cases reported to Halifax Regional Police in 2007, sexual assault victims knew the accused.

• In 2007, 30 per cent of reported sexual assaults in Nova Scotia resulted in a charge being laid, down from 56 per cent in 1993.