Interior Health is making rape kits more accessible, but where? | infonews



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November 11, 2022 – 4:28 pm

When a young woman from Merritt was raped by a close friend two years ago, she did everything she was supposed to: she told a friend who took her to the local hospital hours after the sexual assault.

But there was one big problem: They were told that Nicola Valley Hospital had no rape kits – collecting evidence is crucial to proving a case in court. Instead, barely conscious, she had to drive to Kamloops, another hour away, to be examined.

It was the second known case in recent years of women being sexually assaulted at Homeland Health hospitals only to find they couldn’t help and had to go elsewhere.

Sounds simple enough to store basic materials – and it is. Interior Health says the availability of so-called rape kits isn’t the problem — it’s about finding staff with the skills to use them properly.

“The kits are made available at sites where we have trained examiners to perform the exam,” said Tracy Scott, registered nurse at Interior Health.

While Scott couldn’t speak specifically to this woman’s experience, she said it wasn’t true that an Inland Health hospital wouldn’t have access to a kit.

READ MORE: Merritt man guilty after rape of longtime friend

“I know the issue is never about getting a kit back. It’s about having a highly skilled and qualified reviewer to conduct the review,” she said. The 40-hour training course is not included in regular nursing or medical training, so practitioners receive additional training to learn both a trauma-informed approach with survivors and how to manage trauma. forensic evidence kits, as well as taking legal statements that can be used. in class.

She couldn’t say which Interior Health Region emergency departments are able to use sexual assault evidence kits, but the health authority is trying to make them more accessible. They are harder to find in rural emergency rooms, but the challenge is whether a doctor or nurse is qualified to use them.

In larger hospitals, such as Royal Inland, the kits would be kept in the building and ready for use when needed. Smaller emergency services may need to request the kits from an RCMP detachment or use other medical equipment available in the building.

Royal Inland has an on-call list of qualified healthcare workers to take the exams, but Scott could not say how many people are on that list.

Whether it is the kit or the personnel who are not available, the end result is always the same: the victim must go to another hospital, often more urban, to obtain a kit of evidence.

In 2021, SheMatters, a Canadian advocacy group for victims of sexual assault, conducted a study of Canadian hospitals to determine where sexual assault evidence kits are available.

He revealed that 70% of hospitals in British Columbia have kits available in-house, while the rest ask the RCMP to deliver them, refuse to respond or simply do not make them available.

British Columbia is better off than all the other provinces. In Ontario, 61% of hospitals keep them in stock and only 55% in Alberta.

READ MORE: Lack of rape kit at Penticton Regional Hospital is part of a national problem

Interior Health is revising its procedures for handling sexual assault, and Scott is one of three people leading this change. She specializes in sexual violence and child abuse with the Health Authority.

Scott explained that Interior Health is in the early stages of standardizing its procedures across all of its emergency departments, which would align it with upcoming Health Department policies.

She said Interior Health’s emergency departments all provide “some level” of care for sexual assault survivors, but that doesn’t mean there will always be a rape kit available.

“The goal is to be able to provide 24/7 coverage,” she said. “Whether it’s mobile services or virtual services, the important thing is that no matter where a survivor is, they will have options for care.”

This includes three options for victims. The first is to provide basic health care and emotional support to the patient. The second includes a sexual assault evidence package that will be passed on to the police. Third, and most recent from Royal Inland, is the ability to put the kit in a freezer for up to a year in case the victim decides to notify law enforcement in the future.

“(The freezer) has just been put in place this year. There’s something to celebrate,” she said.

It is unlikely that every emergency department will have qualified personnel to perform the examination, but victims may be offered transport to another hospital where it can be done, if that is what they choose. .

She compared this option to a traumatic car accident, where a seriously injured person could be airlifted from a smaller hospital, potentially to the Lower Mainland, where there are larger hospitals with more specialized practitioners.

The new model of care is expected to be implemented in Interior Health by 2024.

“It’s something we’re working on daily right now,” she said. “We want to make sure the program is sustainable.”

Prior to September, victims could either take the exam and report immediately to the RCMP, or skip the exam altogether. It’s unclear which other Interior Health hospitals also have a dedicated freezer for evidence kits.

Madeline LaMarsh, a sexual assault support worker in Kamloops, said the lack of a freezer had likely been a deterrent in the past.

“Many survivors don’t want to make a statement to the RCMP after a very invasive review process,” she said. “It’s not as simple as people think.”

READ MORE: Boy, 11, shot three times in his father’s shooting chase with Merritt RCMP last year

LaMarsh is the crisis response coordinator for the Kamloops Sexual Assault Counseling Center, which has been in operation for 40 years and serves Kamloops and smaller communities in the region. The organization gives free counseling to victims of sexual assault, even accompanying them to hospitals and the courtroom.

She said the Royal Inland freezer had been there for at least three years, but had only been used recently in the past two months. She added that wait times in emergency departments, along with a lack of transparency about where evidence kits can actually be used, can be another deterrent for survivors of sexual assault.

“If I were to receive a call from outside our area, it would take me a while to find out where an evidence kit is available,” she said.

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