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Sexual assaults in Ottawa linked to hookup apps

Capital Pride festival producer hopes to use Pride to spread awareness, support

In the past two months, at least four men have been sexually assaulted after meeting anonymously online, according to Mauricio Olivares. Credit: Ingram Publishing/ThinkStock

Capital Pride and the GLBT Ottawa police liaison committee are teaming up to respond to a series of sexual assaults involving men who met on hookup apps.

Mauricio Olivares, Capital Pride’s newly-hired festival producer, attended a committee meeting on April 20 to discuss recent sexual assaults targeting male victims. In the past two months, at least four men have been sexually assaulted after meeting anonymously online, Olivares said. Additionally, one man was sexually assaulted after leaving a bar in downtown Ottawa, he said.

“I know of at least five cases in the last two months,” he said. “From what we’ve discussed with other people and other community members, we realize the number is actually much higher than that.”

Olivares said he spoke directly to two of the victims and heard about the other three incidents from community members. By collaborating with the liaison committee and local agencies, it’s important to rally the community so that survivors know they’re not alone and they can access local resources whether they report the assault or not, Olivares said.

“In our community we have a lot of members who are ashamed,” he said. “They are embarrassed and they don’t want to come forward and actually present charges with police because they don’t want to eventually come in front of a judge and have to go over this.”

As hookup apps and dating websites have become more popular, perpetrators are using the cloak of anonymity to victimize others, Olivares said.

“Since the electronic apps and other technologies have become available, a lot of people believe that confidentiality and anonymity give them a shield and a pass to do whatever they want,” he said.

Inspector John McGetrick, the police co-chair of the liaison committee, said he’s “concerned, but not surprised” by the sexual assaults. As with the physical assaults targeting LGBT people that Daily Xtra reported in March, it’s important that people who experience violence know they have options, he said.

“We want to help, but the police will never, ever force someone to proceed with a sex assault investigation,” McGetrick said. “The ball’s in their court. They can come tell us about it to whatever degree they want, talk about it . . . Believe me, we like catching people who do terrible things, so if they want to come chat with us we’re there to help.”

If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you can access support through the Victim Crisis Unit, he said, adding he is available to talk to anyone one-on-one about their options.

“They can also file a report and just have a report and nothing else,” McGetrick said. “We don’t have to action it. That can be helpful just for our information purposes.”

Olivares said he wants to launch an anti-abuse education campaign during Pride, both to prevent sexual violence and to make people aware of community resources. With more than 100,000 people coming together to celebrate, Pride becomes an ideal opportunity to raise awareness of sexual assault and let survivors know that the community supports them, he said.

At the next GLBT liaison committee meeting on May 25, Olivares said he’ll present his ideas for Pride’s anti-abuse campaign to get the committee’s feedback. In the interim, Gary Leger, the committee’s community co-chair, said he will reach out to local agencies to gauge interest in working collaboratively to raise awareness. Olivares and Leger said Capital Pride and the liaison committee want to decrease sexual violence and stigma in the LGBT community.

“We’re at that critical stage where people are very hesitant to report, but we’re also at a very informative stage where people have finally taken notice and are saying this is going on and it’s going on in my backyard,” Leger said.