SASKATOON -- New statistics from the Prince Albert Police Service (PAPS) show an upward five-year trend in sexual offences.

In 2016, police-reported sexual violations sat at 95, increasing slightly in the following years to 126 in 2020. Support organizations are continuing to encourage victims to reach out for help, saying that the rise is likely because of increasing awareness surrounding sexual violence.

Amanda Lofstrom, a counsellor at the Prince Albert Sexual Assault Centre, said there are more victims than statistics show.

“We’ve noticed that we’re working with a lot of historical survivors. Specifically in my situation, I work with some women that have never disclosed to anybody until they’ve reached their adulthood and they were victims as children,” she said.

“They may never report, so their statistics may never be captured by police.”

Lofstrom said staff at the centre only have to contact police when they know a child is the victim of a sexual offence.

The PAPS victim services unit works closely with support organizations such as the Sexual Assault Centre and the Safe Shelter for Women.

The victim services unit helps people through court cases, such as with writing victim impact statements, and writing referrals for where to get more support.

“We don’t want a survivor to have to go through their story more times than is necessary. In these particular cases, it’s really hard for most of them to talk about it, and their story might have to be relayed several times before there is a resolve to it,” said coordinator Kristyn Ziegeman.

“I, again, feel that this is one of the most violating crimes and for survivors, it’s just such a hard, traumatic thing to go through.”

Ziegeman said it’s common for survivors to be hesitant to come forward because they feel that others might not believe them.

The Safe Shelter for Women typically has 26 beds available for women and children, but it’s had to reduce its capacity to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It’s one of the busiest shelters in Saskatchewan, according to assistant director Sherry Bates, because it serves people across the north fleeing domestic violence.

Bates said support organizations need more funding to help victims.

“My wish list would be that with any reported sexual violence, that there would be an immediate advocate that would come and sit with, to speak for, in case they cannot speak for themselves,” she said.

Bates said it’s also important to have supports in place for sexual offenders. Many grow up being victims themselves and think sexual violations are normal, and they need to be taught otherwise, she said.

Lofstrom said it’s a misconception that a sexual offence has to be digital or involve penetration.

“A sexual assault can be any type of unwanted sexual touching. Sexual harassment can be any kind of unwanted comments.”

If you are going to immediately report a sexual assault, police say not to wash your body or clothes in order to collect evidence. If the assault has occurred within the past three days, you can go to a hospital or medical centre for testing for sexually-transmitted infections or pregnancy, and treatment for injuries, according to the police service’s website.