Sexual assault victims find support in new centre

A new, collaborative approach to helping the victims of sexual assault has come to Victoria.

A new, collaborative approach to helping the victims of sexual assault has come to Victoria and the partners who made it possible believe it will revolutionize the way victims of sexual assault, abuse and neglect are supported in the community.

Located at 300B-3060 Cedar Hill Rd., the Victoria Community Response Centre is a joint initiative of social agencies including the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre and the Victoria Child Abuse Prevention and Counselling Centre.

“It serves as a private, one-stop facility for victims of sexual assault … and for children for victims of any sort of assault or neglect … that allows them to report assaults and receive the help they need in a supportive, private, and professional environment,” said Makenna Rielly, the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre’s executive director.

She says that, for her clients, it replaces the current system where many victims of sexual assault have to go to the emergency room to receive care; a system that is rife with barriers to individuals who are already traumatized and often feeling shamed by the event.

“You can imagine a sexual assault victim having to go into the triage area of a hospital and tell the staff, sometimes with 20 or 30 people in the room, that they’ve been sexually assaulted,” said Rielly. “They’re then often forced to sit in a waiting room for hours while more serious life threatening medical emergencies take precedence.”

The centre has facilities that will allow people to be seen in private, with forensic nurses providing rape kits and offering other medical services like testing for STD’s and pregnancy.

Rielly stressed that adults who come to the centre to report a sexual assault are not required to report it to the police. The centre provides supports and counselling and takes steps (like taking forensic tests of victims and storing them for up to a year) that allow victims the time to process the initial trauma and make the decision to report if and when they are ready. If they choose to report, centre staff will make the contacts with the appropriate police agency and facilitate a meeting.

To that end, the centre houses state-of-the-art interview rooms complete with unobtrusive audio and visual recording equipment. The rooms are designed to be comfortable and comforting to victims — a far cry from the sometimes-formidable environment of a police station. Other supports can also be brought in to help make the process less traumatizing.

One victim, who attended the official opening of the centre commented, “I wish that this clinic was here for me when I was sexually assaulted. Like many survivors after my assault I hardly told a soul…I remember running home and hiding under my covers.”

For children, the centre’s services transcend sexual assault to include the victims of abuse and neglect.

Sandra Bryce is the executive director of the child advocacy organization, also located within the response centre. She sees the initiative as critical to providing a non-institutional venue for children and youth — the most vulnerable victims of violence.

While it’s required by law for the centre to report the abuse or neglect of children to the police and ministry, its facilities are used for a multi-disciplinary approach that reduces the continued stress and damage to the children involved.

Interviews are done in special rooms where the video and audio recording equipment is not visible and the child only has to tell their story once, with their parents in the room and a professional counsellor present.

Bryce said the importance of this approach is apparent when one realizes that every time a child has to recall and recount their experience it has the effect of re-traumatizing and re-victimizing them.

“This one-stop approach is one of a kind…there’s nothing else like it out there. And we want to be a model for other regions, allowing them to learn from our approach and experience,” said Rielly.