It almost defies logic that a press conference be held to advise people against groping or making unwanted sexual advances, but here we are.
The Vancouver Police Department, along with Metro Vancouver Transit Police and reps from the Barwatch program, did just that Tuesday morning as they rolled out a new campaign called “Hands Off!”
The announcement came in light of 250 investigations between the VPD and transit police into unwanted sexual contact in public places from the onset of 2018 until last week.
The campaign wasn’t rolled out because the numbers are increasing — they’re consistent with stats from years past — but due to the fact that the incidents keep happening.
“Probably every single girl I know or has worked for me in the past 10 years has had some sort of experience to report on this,” Barwatch spokesperson Kendra Belsheim said.
The campaign will see posters rolled out at bus stops, on SkyTrain cars and at the roughly 30 bars affiliated with Barwatch located along the Granville Strip and in both Yaletown in Gastown.
Transit police spokesperson Sgt. Clint Hampton noted that proven cases of groping, unwanted touching, rubbing and fondling all amount to the same thing.
“Offenders need to realize that these are sexual assaults and sexual assault has a very real, negative and lasting impact on the victim,” Hampton said. “Anyone who commits an act of groping is a sexual offender.”
A report released by the VPD in July showed that more than 1,400 incidents of sexual assault were reported between 2016 and 2018. The Granville Strip had the highest amount of reports (399), followed by the West End (116) and Strathcona (104). About 80 per cent of those sexual assaults were related to groping incidents.
Hampton advised against bystanders intervening in any incident on transit, instead asking those with information to text 87-77-77 as a situation unfolds.
“No two situations are the same,” he said. “There are circumstances where we’ve had Good Samaritans jump in and it’s worked out well and they’ve been able to assist that victim. We never recommend putting yourself in harm’s way.”
The visuals accompanying Tuesday’s press conference showed two hands: one with nail polish, one without. That led to some questions around whether sexual assault is a gender-specific crime.
“We have offenders and victims who come from all walks of life, all ages, all socioeconomic backgrounds,” VPD media spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison. “This is not a crime that is restricted to any one age, demographic or gender. It affects everybody.”
— with files from Mike Howell