We read the One Community Church’s response to charges facing pastor Peter Rigo (‘Cult’ church backs pastor charged in sex assault of parishioner. Hamilton Spectator, October 1, 2015) with great concern. “[The church’s board of directors] trust the judicial system and it’s (sic) process to find this allegation false,” the One Community Church states: “We know our Pastor as a dedicated husband, father and friend and we steadfastly support him during this time.”
We are troubled by the One Community Church’s response.
False allegations of sexual assault are not a common problem. What is a common social problem is the reality that survivors of sexual assault are regularly not believed or supported when they disclose what they’ve experienced. In reality, the majority of all sexual assault cases are not reported at all (less than 10%) – and those that are reported are not always resolved through the criminal justice system.
The suggestion that the disclosure against Mr. Rigo is necessarily “false” and that his lauded position in the community supports this is misleading. It can also discourage those affected by sexual violence from coming forward in future.
Most readers will remember the public’s resistance to sexual assault allegation against comedian Bill Cosby and CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi. Yet as more victims came forward and survivors of sexual violence in our communities shared their own experiences of being violated, shunned and not believed, we began to think differently about sexual assault. Most survivors do not report due to stigma, embarrassment, self-blame, a fear of not being believed, and concern for repercussions in their community, particularly when the offender is a friend, family member, acquaintance or co-worker. The majority of sexual assault offenders are in fact known to the victim in some way —a detail that aligns with the allegations against Mr. Rigo.
Sexual violence is a problem that thrives in secrecy and denial. Important conversations about sexual violence can shed light on the realities of this crime—including the realities that continue to silence victims.
In response to the recent disclosure of sexual assault and the One Community Church’s response to this, the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, SAVIS of Halton and SACHA – Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton & Area) reaches out to those affected by sexual violence in the community.
If something has happened to you, there are people who will believe and support you. You can talk to a trusted friend, family member, or contact a sexual assault centre support line. You can access a sexual assault centre from any community across Ontario. If you are considering reporting, we can help you think through your options. If you are not considering reporting, that’s okay too. All calls are free and confidential. In Halton, call 905-875-1555. In Hamilton, call 905-525-4162.
If you are a friend of colleague of someone who is dealing with sexual violence, there are things you can do. You can be an ally to the person who has been victimized, instead of the aggressors.
If you are a community leader, there are things you can do. You can speak up, or step in. You can ask for help from others, and then step in together. You can be an ally to the person who is victimized, instead of the aggressor. You can share information in your community about sexual violence, and offer information on supports available in the community.
We recognize the impact of sexual violence on those in our communities. We believe that education and information goes a long way toward prevention. Together, we will make a difference.
Lenore Lukasik-Foss, Director, SACHA
Nicole Pietsch, Coordinator, Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres
 METRAC. Sexual Assault Statistics Sheet. Online: http://www.metrac.org/resources/downloads/sexual.assault.statistics.sheet.pdf
 The Learning Network. The Network Comes to Life. May 2012: 2. Available online: http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/sites/learningtoendabuse.ca.vawlearningnetwork/files/LN_Newsletter_May_2012_Issue_1.pdf
 Statistics Canada, 2003, The Daily, 25 July