Kitimat sexual-assault victim support services recently united under a program designed to increase support quality and hold more offenders accountable.
Starting in late may, an official protocol was signed by and distributed to all Kitimat sex assault victim support service providers who are members of Kitimat’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).
SART members now have the ability to share information if consent is given.
They’re also trained to be aware of how other support services in the community work. This means they can help victims access other services and thoroughly inform them about available options. An official protocol means all providers can respond swiftly and similarly.
“Before, each group provided support but we didn’t do it on a coordinated basis,” said Cheryl Rumley, a counsellor and outreach worker with Tamitik Status of Women. Rumley also initiated and is the Kitimat-based coordinator of the SART program.
She said coordinating efforts means victims can access support faster, and the support victims get closest to an incident means a better healing outcome down the road.
SART is three years in the making, and the plan involves two parts: coordinating efforts and also education.
While SART’s first phase is in place, the education part is still in the works.
Rumley said education will involve raising awareness about options for support, and education about sexualized violence — this term involves sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse and harassment.
The awareness program will be aimed at youth and their parents, and ultimately the community at large, she said.
Part of this education will shed light on victim-blame. Rumley said efforts will be made to shift attention to holding offenders accountable for their actions under the law.
But although holding offenders accountable is part of the program’s desired outcome, Rumley stressed it is always possible to access emotional and health support and not press charges.
Only with victim consent will police be contacted, but RCMP victim services are obliged to report crime to police.
After 15 years helping victims of sexual assault and abuse in Kitimat, Rumley said the majority of victims she’s helped don’t report to police.
“Sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes we have,” she said, explaining that in B.C. only an estimated eight to 10 per cent are reported.
She learned these statistics back in 2008, after attending a seminar with the Ending Violence Association of B.C.
Since attending the seminar about supporting victims provincially, she decided to take a grass-roots approach in her home town.
She hopes that by helping victims through the healing process, part of which is understanding they are not at fault, more women will press charges and this, hopefully, means less offences.
Some of the local agencies partaking in SART are the Kitimat General Hospital, the Kitimat RCMP, the Tamitik Status of Women, the Northwest Inter-Nation Family & Community Services Society, the Kitmat RCMP Victim Services, and the Community Based Victim Assistance Program in Terrace.
Smithers has a similar protocol, and it’s model was used as a base for developing one here.