MEDICINE HAT, AB — In the past five years, emergency departments in Medicine Hat, Brooks, Oyen, Bassano and Bow Island dealt with 114 people who reported being sexually assaulted.
In the past year, the Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC) in Medicine Hat has assisted 212 people affected by sexual violence.
The group said of those people, only around 25 per cent reported the incident to police and six per cent accessed medical care following the assault.
In an effort to make it easier for victims of sexual assault to receive care, SARC has teamed up with the Medicine Hat Police Service and Alberta Health Services to form the Sexual Assault Response Team.
SART launched earlier this month providing medical care and sexual assault examinations to people, 14 years of age and older, within 96 hours of the assault.
The physician-led initiative includes treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and other blood-borne infections, pregnancy prevention options and management of other medical concerns, as well as provision of resources for followup care, such as counselling.
SART will assist when a patient requests that forensic samples be collected, which could assist in a police investigation if the individual decides to report the assault to city police or RCMP.
Victims seeking treatment at emergency departments can now decide whether they want medical care only, care and immediate reporting to police, or medical care with anonymous evidence collection while the individual decides whether to report the incident to police.
Christina Johnson, SARC Executive Director, said the partnership will provide more support to the people who need it most.
"We've seen a 350 per cent increase in demand for our counselling program within the past year," says Johnson. "As more sexual assault/abuse survivors come forward, service providers need to be prepared and work together."
The Medicine Hat Police Service hopes this initiative will help more victims of sexual assault feel better about seeking help.
"Having a specialized team to provide immediate and ongoing support to victims will improve their care, as will providing them the option to report the crime to police when they are emotionally able to, without the loss of physical evidence." said Staff Sargent Trevor Humphries.
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