MEDICINE HAT, AB — The Medicine Hat Police Service Victims Assistance Unit and the Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC) are partnering to assist adult survivors of sexual assault.
The partnership was unveiled Wednesday afternoon, and will help survivors navigate the criminal justice system after the crime has taken place.
The program is funded through a $220,000 grant from Justice Canada, and will allow both organizations to enhance their services. Enhancements include pre-reporting options, early-stage needs assessments, collaboration between court and care supports and access to sexual violence specific therapy.
The money is helping provide a Sexual Assault Navigation Specialist, currently working jointly with police and SARC, to assist adult victims. The program has been running since June.
When a victim is considering reporting a sexual assault to police they would meet with the specialist.
The individual would be informed of their options and receive help navigating the justice system while getting other supports, like access to counselling.
The sexual assault survivor will also be assisted in accessing police services if they choose to report the assault.
SARC executive director Christina Johnston says they're already getting positive feed back from those who have used the new service.
“[For them it’s] relief knowing that someone's walking with them on their journey,” she said. “Knowing that the services and the people that are supporting them are there, they understand, they get it.
“[They learn] that the systems aren't as scary as they seem, whether it's accessing sexual trauma therapy, or supports, or policing services.”
Police say this initiative doesn’t change their investigations, but rather focuses on after-care for the victim.
The Sexual Assault Navigation Specialist is there to help keep victims from falling through the cracks.
On average, police investigate 70 sexual assaults per year. Between January and August of 2017, there have been 41 cases reported.
SARC says nationally only five per cent of sexual assault victims actually report the attacks.
Inspector Brent Secondiak said due to the severe trauma, without support, many victims can spiral downhill.
“We've seen male victims resort, often times, to criminality. Female victims can resort to drug use and prostitution, things like that,” he explained. “So, our goal long term is to immediately provide services to the victim with a hope, an end goal, that they become supported and criminal activity doesn't occur.”
The $222,000 will providing funding for the services over the next three years with the hope of making it a permanent program in Medicine Hat.
Since its introduction in June of 2017, the Victim Navigation Program has served 42 people in the community.
Nearly half of the people were victims who were current clients of Victim Assistance or SARC who received enhanced services. The other half were new referrals from either MHPS or SARC.
-With files from Leah Murray
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