Every Woman’s Centre in Sydney has signed a three-year contract to offer expanded sexual assault nurse examiner service to residents of Cape Breton.
Louise Smith-MacDonald, centre co-coordinator, said the service includes physical examination and support immediately following a sexual assault, offered by specially trained nurses. It will also offer followup support from a co-ordinator who will help link people to the services they may need, from the day after the sexual assault until months later.
“There’s a whole range of emotions people go through after a sexual assault – blaming themselves, wondering what they could have done differently,” said Ms. Smith-MacDonald. “They may not feel comfortable living in the same place; they may have issues with employment. There has to be some kind of support for them, and this service will provide it.”
Two specially trained nurses will respond within 1.5 hours, around the clock, most often at the request of emergency departments but sometimes community clinics. Nurses can perform physical examinations, ensure forensic evidence is protected in case the victim decides to make a criminal complaint, and provide crisis intervention and emotional support.
In the coming months, Every Woman’s Centre will hire on-call nurses to respond to sexual assaults when called by an emergency department. They will train the nurses and a co-ordinator, develop agreements with service locations and community support groups, and set up protocols and training with emergency department staff. Expanded service is expected to begin in January.
The province will invest $700,000 per year to expand the service in Cape Breton, as well as southwestern Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore.
“This is an important service that will provide continued support, for Cape Bretoners who have been sexually assaulted,” said Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA Derek Mombourquette, on behalf of Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine.
Sexual assault nurse examiners are specially trained to provide crisis intervention, medical care and emotional support to those who have been sexually assaulted. This support is available to anyone who has been sexually assaulted, of all gender identities and sexual orientations.
“This expansion of service is a positive enhancement to the services we are able to offer to those who experience sexual assault,” said Lindsay Peach, vice-president of Integrated Health Services Community Support and Management, Nova Scotia Health Authority. “We are pleased to be able to work with these community partners in establishing expanded access to the sexual assault nurse examiner service.”
A request for proposals was issued in mid-April.
There are two groups offering provincially funded sexual assault nurse examiner service in the province – the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, which provides service in the Halifax area, and the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association, which covers New Glasgow to Port Hawkesbury.
The expansion of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program is part of Breaking the Silence: A Co-ordinated Response to Sexual Violence in Nova Scotia, the first provincewide sexual violence strategy launched in June 2015.