Responding to Sexual Violence in Medicine Hat – Part 2
The second part of this series will explore the role of Victim Assistance (VA) in instances of sexual assault and child sexual abuse. This can be a confusing and emotional process for victims, and VA acts as a guide to help them navigate the system and services available.
“Most sexual assault survivors tell a friend or family member first before telling police or victim assistance,” says Bobbi Jo Walker, Program Manager with Victim Assistance. “Some people come to us to get information on the legal process of filing charges, what court looks like, and for resources like counselling.” Referrals to VA come from a variety of streams. Some survivors seek help through VA by dropping in on their own, while others are connected after speaking to the Major Crimes Unit or Patrols. In the cases when a victim is referred by police, their file is pulled by VA so they can follow up for support. Resource information and general information about programs and services available to victims of crime are mailed out to the victim and VA volunteers call within a few days/weeks to check in.
Victim Assistance is highly dependent on volunteers to conduct their work. “Our volunteers donate their time away from their own families to support people in crisis,” says Walker. “To become a volunteer, they must pass rigorous screening, sign an oath of confidentiality, and complete hours of training.” The Victim Assistance volunteers come from all walks of life. Some have social work or education backgrounds, some have been victims of crime themselves and want to help others, and some are simply kind people who care about the community they live in. “Volunteer training teaches to listen in a non-judgmental way, validate the victim’s feelings, give encouragement, and reaffirm things the victim is doing well,” adds Walker. “We can refer victims to services that may help them. Our goal is to stop people from falling between the gaps and support the victim to find their own power within.”
In addition to the dedicated volunteers, VA has gained a new team member within the past year. Mulder, a Victim Service dog trained through Dogs with Wings out of Edmonton is used to alleviate trauma in clients. So far, Mulder has worked with 10 clients through Victim Assistance, including helping children in sexual abuse and domestic violence cases find immediate comfort and reduce their trauma in times of crisis. He is quickly becoming a vital member of the VA team, offering support while victims wait to speak to police, during interviews, and in court proceedings.
As part of the Medicine Hat Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), VA is finding that community partners are making a big difference. “When we all cooperate together it means better service to victims,” explains Walker. “Making connections at this table has created new training opportunities for the VA volunteers to improve their abilities to respond,” she adds. “The First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse training offered by SARC has provided volunteers with a better understanding of trauma and the manipulation of offenders. It has also built up their confidence when working with victims of this crime.”
Click here for Part 3.