The Ottawa Hospital is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of sexual assaults since last year, more than double.  Many of them are happening in large gatherings like the parties planned for this Saturday night, Hallowe’en.  The hospital says frosh week was bad this year with more than twice as many sexual assaults reported as the previous year. Now the hospital's emergency department and sexual assault clinic are bracing for a spike in the numbers again with Hallowe'en falling on a Saturday.

It is scenes like the one at last year's Spookland party at Mont Cascades that have many emergency personnel worried about this Halloween.  Several teenagers were so drunk they were unconscious and there were reports of more than one sexual assault.  While Spookland isn't happening at Mont Cascades anymore all sorts of other parties are planned in bars and convention centres around this region.  Too often, that combination of a large party with drugs and alcohol means an increase in the number of sexual assaults. The Ottawa Hospital recently published a study in EMJ on-line that looked at the number of sexual assaults at large gatherings.  It found that 26% or roughly 1 in 4 sex assaults reported happened at large group events, peaking on New Year’s Eve, Canada Day, frosh week and Hallowe’en.

Dr. Kari Sampsel helped write that article.  Sampsel is the medical director of the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Program at the Ottawa Hospital.

‘It's very disturbing for us and very concerning for us,’ says Sampsel of these numbers, ‘so we want to get message to people to party safely and if something does happen to come and get yourself checked out.’

Dr. Sampsel says the number of people reporting sexual assaults this year is frightening.

25 visits last October, compared to 46 so far this year which represents an increase of 84%.

Last September, around frosh week there were 23 visits compared to 53 this year.  That's an increase of more than 100%.

The Sexual Assault Centre believes the increase in reporting doesn't mean an increase in sexual violence but rather that survivors are feeling believed and empowered.

‘Sexual violence is a conversation happening like never before,’ says Yami Msosa with the Ottawa Sexual Assault Support Centre, ‘Sexual violence is being taken seriously.  There is a movement that says if you are a survivor, or how can we prevent sexual violence. There is a conversation that is occurring.’

It's a conversation she says that needs to happen at all those large gatherings this weekend that if someone sees something happening, they need to step forward and ask questions, need to step forward and stop it.

The organizers of some of these large parties are also stepping up working with sexual assault centres and the hospital to train their staff to recognize when someone needs help.