Tri-County Women’s Centre will soon offer expanded sexual assault nurse examiner service to residents of southwestern Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley, and the South Shore.
The group has signed a three-year contract with Nova Scotia Health Authority to provide expanded service in these areas, following a request for proposals issued in mid-April.
Under the sexual assault nurse examiner program, the first of two specially trained nurses will respond within 1.5 hours, around the clock. This happens most often at the request of emergency departments but sometimes at community clinics. The nurses can perform a physical examination, ensure forensic evidence is protected in case the victim decides to make a criminal complaint, and provide crisis intervention and emotional support.
Bernadette MacDonald, executive director of the Tri-County Women’s Centre, said a program co-ordinator will also reach out to those who have been sexually assaulted days and weeks afterward, to support them if they choose to report the assault to police, and offer counselling or other community supports as needed.
“We all know about the low numbers of sexual assaults that are reported. This is a very good model to help victims of sexual assault come forward. It’s responsive to their needs,” said Ms. MacDonald.
Over the coming months, the group will hire nurses to respond on call across the region. They will train the nurses, 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 service in this area, as well as Cape Breton.
“Expanding the sexual assault nurse examiner service in southwestern Nova Scotia, the South Shore and the Annapolis Valley means that more people will have access to expert care at a time when they are most vulnerable,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill, 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.”
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 Coordinated Response to Sexual Violence in Nova Scotia, the first provincewide sexual violence strategy launched in June 2015.