Quebec’s Eastern Townships sees increase in demand for rape kits after bars, restaurants reopen
The reopening of bars and restaurants in Quebec has led to a jump in the number of women asking for rape kits in the Eastern Townships, according to an organization that helps sexual assault survivors there.
A spokesperson for CALACS Agression Estrie says the group has noticed a dramatic increase in the number of women coming to it for help since mid-February.
The group provides support to victims aged 12 and older, and accompanies them to the hospital if they want to do a medical exam.
Kelly Laramée, a spokesperson CALACS, said the number of women they’ve helped has tripled in the past seven weeks.
“Normally, we accompanied women who wanted to do these exams about once or twice a week, but since [the reopening], we accompany [women] many times per week, three to four times more.”
Tied to the lifting of measures
The timing coincides with the reopening of restaurants at the end of January and bars at the end of February. Laramée said that most of the victims were intoxicated and weren’t in a state to consent, or they were drugged with GHB, the so-called date-rape drug.
“We see both really increasing since the last lifting of measures,” she said. “About three-quarters of the victims that we met had gone out to [a bar or a restaurant] before they were assaulted.”
Just last weekend, Laramée accompanied three women to the hospital in less than 24 hours.
“It worries us a lot,” she said, noting that most victims they’ve helped have been young women.
The medical exams are done at two hospitals in the region, the Fleurimont hospital and the Granby hospital.
The Eastern Townships’ public health authority, the CIUSSS DE l’Estrie, confirmed that it has received 21 requests for rape kits since the start of February.
In an email, the health authority warned that this number might be an underestimate, because victims might decide to use other services without asking for a kit.
The health authority says it offers different services for those who have been sexually assaulted, including psychological support and ensures that the person has a safe place to go once their consultation is over.
The Sherbrooke police did not return the CBC’s calls for comments.
The importance of being proactive
Laramée said it was important for people to intervene if they see someone who looks uncomfortable or who is being touched or harassed.
“The situations we’ve seen recently are happening in public spaces and the citizens don’t intervene,” she said, adding the worst that can happen is that “we worry for nothing and we offer our support to someone who doesn’t need it.”
Jeremy Audet, a Bishop’s University student who has been outspoken about sexual violence on his campus, said he was saddened to hear that the number of sexual assaults had increased in the region.
But he said he has noticed that more students are taking action when they feel that a situation seems off.
“Even if cases are going up, the response is increasing as well,” he said, adding people were talking about it more. “It’s no longer being swept under the rug, survivors are allowed to feel empowered.”
He said that shift started happening last fall, after his university faced criticism for not doing more to stop a culture of rape on campus.
He said he hopes that the higher number of victims asking for help means that more people are aware of the resources available to them.
“I think that because people are more open about conversing about it, that survivors are more open coming forward and asking for help, and asking for directions, where to go, what to do,” he said.
According to Laramée, most of the women CALACS has supported recently have decided to report their assault to the police.