About 12 per cent of sexual assault responses conducted by the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre’s response team last year supported survivors from the West Shore.
According to Carissa Ropponen, spokesperson for the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC), the number of people who sought out help from the centre’s integrated clinic has increased in the last three years as well.
The VSAC Sexual Assault Response Team provides survivors — aged 13 and over and of all genders — who have been sexually assaulted within the past seven days with access to medical and forensic exams, police interviews and crisis support.
The team brings together police, forensic nurse examiners and crisis workers to support survivors.
In 2016, VSAC opened the Sexual Assault Centre Integrated Clinic and uses the clinic to provide survivors with a safe, accessible and confidential environment to receive services offered by the response team.
Before 2016, the team operated out of Victoria General Hospital.
“Since the clinic has opened we’ve seen a large increase in requests for Sexual Assault Response Team services,” Ropponen said.
Before the clinic opened, the team responded to 34 survivors in the hospital. By the 2017/2018 fiscal year, the team responded to 137 people.
Of those 137, it is estimated that 12 per cent are from the West Shore area.
But the increase in requests for response does not necessarily mean an increase in sexual assaults, Ropponen noted.
“It means that more people are feeling comfortable to come forward and receive support,” Ropponen said. “It means this model of service is really working for people … it can be very intimidating for a survivor to go to an emergency room right after experiencing assault.”
Ropponen said the clinic is a quiet, calm, confidential space that is available 24 hours a day. She said it makes a big impact for a survivor to have the option of attending the clinic rather than going to a hospital.
Additionally, the clinic offers a private interview room where police can conduct interviews with the survivor.
“West Shore RCMP have booked the clinic for interviews too,” Ropponen said.
The clinic costs approximately $200,000 to operate and the money for it is fundraised every year. VSAC currently does not have core funding from the government for the clinic but would like to see it one day, Ropponen said.
“We know this model is effective,” Ropponen said. “Also other communities are interested in this model.”
VSAC is currently speaking with municipalities in Greater Victoria to receive their support and keep the clinic running.
“Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes,” Ropponen said. “The clinic is a space where people feel more comfortable receiving support so we see that as successful.”