Sask. rural, remote communities need better sexual violence education, more support: report

A new report released this week identifies gaps in educational programming on sexual violence in Saskatchewan, especially for people and communities statistically most at risk. (Shutterstock - image credit)
A new report released this week identifies gaps in educational programming on sexual violence in Saskatchewan, especially for people and communities statistically most at risk. (Shutterstock - image credit)

Warning: this article contains information about sexual violence.

A preliminary report released this week says there are gaps in sexual violence support and education in Saskatchewan, particularly in rural and isolated communities.

Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) launched the report on Tuesday, alongside the Community-University Institute for Social Research, University of Saskatchewan and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. These initial research findings come after consulting with 228 people from 18 communities.

The report says the province needs better education on sexual violence, particularly for groups facing high rates of victimization including Indigenous people, newcomers, LGBTQ people, seniors and people with disabilities — especially those involved in substance use, in poverty or without proper education.

It also points out a lack of available support in rural areas.

The Piwapan Women's Centre in La Ronge, located about 215 kilometres north of Prince Albert, offers services like shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence, transition housing, outreach programs and support for people in abusive relationships for more than a dozen northern and remote communities.

Executive director Karen Sanderson said the north doesn't have enough support and education on domestic and sexual violence, arguing the region has enough for its own specialized unit.

"We have community members that don't always have access to travel south, so they are falling through the system gaps. We have mental health workers who are overloaded with cases, where a lot of it is from past sexual assault, past domestic violence, past child abuse issues, which in the healing process takes a lot longer than the general mental health work," Sanderson said, stating people have been calling for more support for years.

"Anything that explores the needs of our northern communities is always beneficial, especially when it comes to trauma-informed, trauma-based counselling [and] healing."

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

She said there also need to be more treatment centres, specialized services and healing components to address the "residue and trauma of residential school, poverty, addictions [and] abuse in general."

The report said Indigenous women, women with disabilities, sex workers, and gender or sexually diverse people are at higher risk. It also said many LGBTQ people find it difficult to access services in rural or remote communities.

According to Statistics Canada, about 46 per cent of Indigenous women in the Prairie provinces have reported being sexually assaulted since they were 15 years old, compared with 36 per cent of non-Indigenous women.

Women reporting they have been sexually assaulted since    age 15, by region and Indigenous identity

Police-reported sexual assault rates in Western Canada, 2021

Sexual violence rooted in colonial legacies: program lead

Somiya Tabassum, program lead for the education initiative, said the research has suggested that high rates of sexual violence are "rooted deeply in our violent colonial legacies."

"We can't talk about sexual violence without taking into account the violent legacies the Indigenous populations are facing," Tabassum told Leisha Grebinski, host of CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nation communities in Saskatchewan, has a partnership with SASS and supports the report.

Aly Bear, a vice-chief with the federation, noted the report's reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's final report. The sexual violence initiative report said there's an ingrained reluctance in Indigenous girls to report or seek assistance because of colonial legacies.

"Indigenous women have been overrepresented in these types of areas because they're targeted, because it intersects with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," she said.

Education in schools

The report also advocates for a comprehensive sexual health education program.

It said a literature review confirmed that comprehensive programming promotes healthy relationships, and helps prevent sexual and intimate partner violence.

"While sexual health in education is a component of the national health curriculum, curricular decisions fall under provincial/territorial jurisdictions, frequently leaving them up to individual school boards and even teachers to determine," the report said.

"For example, in Saskatchewan, sexual health education in schools often emphasizes abstinence, long since proven to be ineffective in failing to address consent, a topic crucial to building healthy sexual identities and preventing gender-based violence."

Marie Lovrod, a research partner and an associate professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said she heard one story of a person whose parents wouldn't let them take sexual health education because there was incest in the home.

She also said the isolation introduced by COVID-19 led to fewer available resources for those in need, a point outlined in the report.

Lovrod said COVID-19 also exacerbated online sexual exploitation and that "we need tools to help us navigate these different concepts of sexual violence."

A more fulsome report is expected to follow the preliminary findings in the next month, according to Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan, with educational modules and frameworks in development.

To find assistance in your area, visit Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan ( for a list of support services throughout the province. 

In Saskatoon, SSAIC operates a 24/7 crisis line in partnership with Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service at 306-244-2224. In Regina, the Regina Sexual Assault Centre operates a crisis and information line 306-352-0434 or toll free: 1-844-952-0434.