Responding to Sexual Violence in Medicine Hat – Part 6

Responding to Sexual Violence in Medicine Hat – Part 6

Part 6 of this series will explore the role of the Southeastern Alberta Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC). Executive Director, Christina Johnson, sits on the Medicine Hat Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and offers her insight specific to sexual violence in the region.

“SARC offers sexual trauma counselling and education programs to work towards ending sexual violence, understanding consent, and healthy relationships. SARC focuses on community collaboration to ensure a unified voice on the issue of sexual violence in Southeastern Alberta,” says Johnson. Over the past 2.5 years, SARC has seen a drastic increase in demand for their counselling and network navigation services. “In 2014/15 we supported 63 individuals; in 2015/16 we supported 93 individuals; and we are only halfway through the 2016/17 year and have already supported 124 individuals. This is a 350% increase.” Johnson attributes this increase to awareness campaigns like #IBelieveYou and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. “Becoming an identifiable, stand-alone service has led people to know services are available to them. Survivors have somewhere to go for help.”

When a sexual assault survivor contacts SARC they are connected to a Network Navigator to support them through their journey to healing. The Network Navigator will work with the client to help them assess their immediate and ongoing needs. This could include discussing reporting options, sexual health needs, or counselling through one of SARC’s contracted trauma therapists.

With such a high demand for service, SARC has developed 2 open groups to increase support options for survivors of sexual violence. Sexual Trauma And Recovery (STAR) is a 12-week psycho-ed group that helps individuals gain skills to prepare them for 1-on-1 counselling. “Often,” says Johnson, “stage 1 of trauma treatment is establishing safety. This group focuses on skill building in order to assist in the therapeutic process. The women who attend group find great comfort and support by being in a room with other women who have experienced sexual trauma.”  STAR began in September 2016 and is currently a pilot program which is showing great success in its early stages. This group is currently open to women 18+ only. The second new group, Positive Affirmation Through Healing (PATH) will begin intake in January 2017. This support group will be open to all genders 18+ of age and offer a sense of community, reassuring survivors that they are not alone and supporting them to maintain their PATH of living in the now.

“Being a part of the Medicine Hat Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) has opened the floor to conversations that have led to significant change in our community and in how we provide services,” states Johnson. One such change is the “third option” previously mentioned in Part 1 of this series. “Connections are being made that allow for more confident warm referrals to other services, which in turn is providing more support to survivors in need.” The work done at these SART meetings has produced a collaborative community response to the issue of immediate sexual assault.

Part 7 concludes this series. Find the last article here