#MeToo effect: Reports of sexual assault in Sarnia double as more victims come forward

Troy Shantz

The number of reported sexual assaults in Sarnia more than doubled between 2017 and 2018, confirming the impact of the #MeToo movement, city police say.

“We truly believe, with the changes in society… more people are more comfortable reporting what’s happening to them,” said Const. John Sottosanti.

Sexual assault cases jumped to 95 from 45 between 2017 and 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That’s an increase of 111%.

The Sarnia Police Service’s 2019 annual report also noted a doubling in the number of fraud investigations, and an astronomical increase in the number of parking infractions written up by officers.

Sottosanti said many of the sexual assault allegations followed online meet-ups, which is nothing new. But more victims had the courage to come forward and report the abuse, he said.

The social media hashtag #MeToo made headlines internationally in 2017, prompting women to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.

Reporting a sexual assault to police can be a painful process, but it’s a necessary one for investigators to press charges and equip prosecutors with convictable evidence, Sottosanti added.

“If we bring this to court we don’t want to traumatize the victim any more than they already have been. So when we go to court, we want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row.”

The number of reported frauds — which can be anything from stolen credit cards to phone scams — also doubled, from 249 to 499 in 2018, the report noted.

Most were classic phone scams. A common one locally involves a caller masquerading as a government official and threatening arrest unless a fee is paid in gift cards or cryptocurrency, Sottosanti said.

“Money may not have been lost or anything, but (personal) information may have been exchanged, so (victims) are reporting that more,” he said.

“It’s a huge thing. We have had a significant number of people lose money too.”

Another common fraud involved debit and credit cards with the ability to “tap” payment at checkouts, Sottosanti added.

Most cards enabled to “tap” have a $100 cash limit. But because the transaction doesn’t require use of a private pin number, those cards can be used by anyone, not just their rightful owner.

In 2018, Sarnia Police officers issued 389 parking tickets compared to 16 the previous year. That’s an eye-catching increase of 2,331%.

That statistic can largely be attributed to complaints about persistent illegal parking near Clearwater Arena, which prompted police to crack down in 2018, Sottosanti said.

Sarnia Police can and do assist bylaw officers in the enforcement of municipal bylaws when needed.

Revenue for the parking tickets goes back into city coffers, Sottosanti added.

Police received 24,694 calls for service in 2018, and made 2,364 arrests.

To view the full report, visit https://www.sarniapolice.com/about-sps/reports/