Rural sex assault responders suggest improvements
More than 80 West Central Alberta health-care workers, police and other stakeholders have taken part in a research project survey examining rural sexual assault medical care and what might be done to make the treatment of victims and the collection of evidence more effective and less traumatic.
“We have had a really excellent response from everyone,” said Cathy Carter-Snell, the instructor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University who is spearheading the research project.
“We were quite overwhelmed with how enthusiastic people are and how committed they are to providing the best services they can in their communities.
“Everybody who responded was extremely committed to finding out what the sources of stresses are and how they can help reduce them.”
Those interviewed over the past two months included RCMP officers, nurses, social workers, victims’ services personnel, and physicians.
The research project was prompted, in part, by the findings of a recent survey conducted by the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Workers that found that after sexual assaults women in rural areas often face issues that women in urban centres don’t face.
“Some of those issues were being in a closed community, and being in close proximity to the person who assaulted them,” she said. “If they go out of the rural area into the city (for treatment) they are separated from the support people that help them, such as family and friends. And that can all cause problems in their ability to cope afterwards.”
With 40 to 50 per cent of sexual assault victims typically suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome, anything that can be done to reduce stress on the victim, including during followup medical care, would be helpful, she said.
The project survey was conducted to find out what improvements stakeholders would like to see when it comes to sexual assault treatment and evidence collection.
Survey respondents were able to provide researchers with numerous good suggestions, she said.
“Some of the suggestions that we got from them were that they want very simple tools to help them redefine their roles so that they can just pull a page out that says the nurse does this, the police officer does this, the physician does that,” she said.
“They want a one-page checklist that they can just check. If it’s a 20-page booklet they have to stop and read it and that just adds to the delay.
“And they want the list kept up to date, maybe by putting it on a website so that they can download it and have someone keep it updated as policies change or as practices change.”
Researchers hope to have checklists available for release by the end of June, she said.
The research project is being funded through the Alberta Rural Development Network, an initiative that, in part, encourages interaction between universities and rural communities.
Meanwhile, now that the survey portion of the project has been completed, researchers are trying to find funding for a podcast (a type of Internet-based information sharing) on secondary victimization in sexual assault cases, she said. “We are also looking for funding to help develop a video showing the evidence collection kit, what’s in it and how to use it. We would then be making that available for download from a website,” she said.