By Gillian Slade on June 16, 2017.
Medical examinations after a sexual assault can now take place up to 96 hours after the assault, thanks to improved laboratory testing, the Sexual Assault Response Committee announced on Thursday.
“In our last four months we’ve had an increase of 160 per cent of people accessing services,” said Christina Johnson, executive director of the Southeastern Alberta Sexual Assault Response Committee. “That does not signal an increase in incidents of sexual assault. It actually signals an increase in people accessing services.”
A team of professionals — Sexual Assault Response Committee Team — has been assembled to ensure help is supportive and allows the victim to direct the pace of any investigation and whether to lay charges. If they choose to lay charges they also determine when to do so. The specialized team includes physicians to provide medical care and sexual assault examinations, said Johnson. This 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 resources forfollow-up care such as counselling. Children under the age of 14 are referred to a pediatrician.
“What’s changing is how we provide care so that patients will feel more supported throughout the entire process.” said Dr. Lena Derie-Gillespie,SART lead and medical officer of health for AHS south zone.
Patients seeking care at an emergency department for sexual assault now have care options including only medical care, or care with immediate reporting to police or anonymous evidence collection while the individual decides on the next steps.
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.
There will be a focus on the victim, expressing empathy and giving them a choice. This allows the victim time to decide on whether to proceed with charges, said MHPS S-Sgt. Trevor Humphries, Major Crimes Section.
A mobile sexual assault cart at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital is now fully equipped with items needed for an examination and items to bring comfort as well. This could include new clothing for someone whose clothes are required as forensic evidence.
From 2012 to 2017, emergency departments in Medicine Hat, Brooks, Oyen,Bassano and Bow Island provided care to 114 individuals who reported being sexual assaulted.
From April 2016 to March 2017,SARC has assisted 212 individuals affected by sexual violence. Approximately one in four reported the incident to police and about six per cent accessed medical care following the assault.
Derie-Gillespie urged family and friends of someone sexually assaulted to believe the person and to offer support.
You can contact SARC at 403-548-2717.