After an assault: Better access to health care necessary for victims of sexual violence

By in Opinions
The front entrance of the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

A 2018 study from an Ontario hospital revealed that healthcare workers are often the first to interact with those affected by sexual violence. They also noted that only two-thirds of victims agree to a forensic rape kit.

Only a month ago, there was limited access to these kits as they were only offered in one emergency room in the city. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. As of March 12, all emergency departments in Saskatoon offer all services for victims of sexual assault.

Before this, St. Paul’s Hospital didn’t offer forensic kits or emergency contraception, such as the well-known plan B. Megan Evans — manager of communications and development at Saskatoon Sexual Assault & Information Centre, a non-profit organization that responds to community-based sexual violence — says that a lack of properly trained staff could complicate a victim’s efforts to recover from the assault.

“The biggest determinant we see is how long it takes [victims] to disclose and how the person who is disclosed to responds. If it gets minimized, or there’s blame or denial, then that might shut the victim up for a really long time. Getting back to a healthy state of mind, talking to someone is the biggest thing that helps people afterwards,” Evans said.

The increased emergency services for victims was informed based on community needs, says Amanda Purcell, media relations specialist at the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

“Recently, it has become clear that people in our community could be better served if victims of sexual assault were seen at the facility where they were first present. In response, the three Saskatoon area hospitals’ emergency departments are working together to ensure holistic care — which addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of victims of sexual assault — is available at all three sites,” Purcell said.

St. Paul’s Hospital is in Pleasant Hill, a neighbourhood which is affected by poverty and homelessness. Evans explains the correlation between being socially disadvantaged and being at risk for sexual assault.

“The more people are marginalized, there’s an increased chance for sexual violence because it shows where you are in terms of vulnerability. If you struggle with addictions or are sleeping on the street — all the things people take for granted, especially for children — they’re especially vulnerable when it comes to sexual assault,” Evans said.

Unlike the downward trend seen in other types of crime, the rates of sexual assault in Saskatchewan are not decreasing. Our province is currently second in the country for per capita rates.

Organisations like the SSAIC, Mobile Crisis Services and the Saskatoon Community Clinic Westside exist to fill gaps in the current system. In the future, Evans would like to see even more resources devoted to prevention of sexual assault and victim care.

“It’s really awesome to see mental-health initiatives in the recent budget, but sexual-assault [initiatives] got no funding. With a new report coming out before the next budget, we hope to move vital stakeholders forward and mobilize human and financial resources to achieve the goals,” Evans said.

As public awareness of sexual assault increases, information becomes more readily available, which leads to better support systems for victims. Social-media movements, like #MeToo, have no doubt drawn attention to sexual violence in our everyday lives and will hopefully continue to encourage better support and care for survivors.

Cami Kaytor

Photo: Jeremy Gee