12/16/2011 06:29 EST | Updated 02/15/2012 05:12 EST

Maclean's Ranks Saint John Sex Assault Capital

Maclean's magazine has again ranked Saint John the sexual assault capital of Canada, with another New Brunswick city in third place.

The news magazine, which got its crime statistics from Statistics Canada for municipal police services, says the sexual assault rate in Saint John is above the national average at 97 per 100,000.

By comparison, 65 Canadians out of every 100,000 suffered a sexual assault last year, according to the magazine.

It's not clear why Saint John's numbers are higher. But people who are victims of sexual assault and those who work with them, question whether any numbers mean anything, when the crime is vastly under-reported everywhere.

"They're just numbers. I wouldn't say it happens more in Saint John," said Elsie McGraw, who was sexually abused by a family member for most of her childhood and now runs a support group in Saint John.

She said sexual assault is a serious mental health issue, that takes its toll in ways too numerous to count.

"People in our group, I could name a few who have within the past six months, have tried to commit suicide. We're dealing with multiple personalities, suicide, anger, just every one of those addictions," said McGraw.

"Most addictions are people trying to stuff that hole in their soul."

The reported rate of sexual assaults to Saint John Regional Police has actually been dropping, from 144 in 2007 to 97 in 2010.

In fact, the crime index across the country has fallen.

But Saint John continues to make Maclean's annual rankings as having one of the highest, if not the highest sexual assault rates over the years.

The researchers say they don't know why.

Last year, Saint John police called it a good news story, because it shows Saint Johners feel more confident coming forward with complaints.

"I'm absolutely proud of that number being high. It's the reported number," said Insp. Darrell Scribner.

Social worker Lindsey Gallant works with sexual assault victims, including many who don't report those crimes because they feel ashamed and guilty.

"There's a lot of victim-blaming. A lot of 'what was she wearing? Was she drinking? Was she using drugs? Where was she?'" Gallant said.

In addition, there's no guarantee victims will get the verdict they expect, she said, and the police and judicial process can be traumatizing in itself.

"The rape kit has gotten better. It's certainly gotten much better. But it's still invasive and it has to be, to collect that kind of evidence," Gallant said.

This time of year can be especially haunting for victims of sexual assault, said McGraw, based on her personal experience and the support group she runs. It's an emotional season and repressed feelings tend to surface, she said.