Sexual assault affects a person in many ways. It can be disorienting, confusing, and frightening trying to get the assistance the survivor most needs. Even trying to get the most basic help can make someone feel vulnerable and afraid. And for some survivors, they stop seeking support then and there.
First—what is sexual assault? Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact done without consent. And it happens with disturbing regularity on the Gulf Islands.
In response to this problem, IWAV is launching a Sexual Assault Response Program on the Southern Gulf Islands. Starting July 15, sexual assault survivors on the islands will be able to access a free, coordinated emergency response by a team of professionals. These services are available 24/7 through the Sexual Assault Response line. The local number is (250) 931-7712 and the toll-free line 1-833-946-1706.
There are three key aspects of the new Sexual Assault Response Program (SARP): emergency response, ongoing support/advocacy, and individual counselling.
For sexual assaults that occur within 7 days of the call, emergency support is available to survivors aged 13 and older, inclusive of all genders. This can include telephone or in-person sessions for emotional and practical support and sharing of information. Survivors also can also choose to have IWAV staff meet and accompany them at the hospital for medical support or at the RCMP to report sexual assault.
Survivors can receive ongoing support to discuss options, information, safety planning, access to medical services and criminal justice processes; receive counselling; and to get referrals to other service providers.
IWAV also offers support and counselling services to female-identified and youth survivors of historic and recent sexual assault. These services are available weekdays during regular business hours.
IWAV ensures that everyone who contacts the program will be in charge of how to proceed, the pace at which they want to proceed, and when and if they want to stop the process. Their safety and comfort will be prioritized regardless. These services are confidential and free, and survivors will be listened to, respected, and believed.
Jessica Terezakis, the coordinator for the SARP, said, “Our program's aim is to support survivors in restoring their sense of dignity and power through agency and choice. We understand that healing will look different for every person, and we want survivors to know that they can come here and set the pace of their own journey. We are here to support them in making decisions that work for them, without judgment and without pressure.”
In addition, IWAV offers third-party reporting, which allows survivors the opportunity to report anonymously if they choose. This is an option for survivors who can't or don't want to come forward. Third-party reporting also helps police track repeat offenders and patterns among people who commit sexual assaults. If police need to contact the survivor, they do so through the third-party agency (IWAV) who will then contact the survivor; this ensures the survivor’s confidentiality. Contact with the police is the survivor’s decision, unless in serious circumstances that warrant intervention, such as a significant risk to the public, individual, or where a child in need of protection. This service is generally available for survivors over 19 and for recent or historic sexual assault. Please contact the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for more information.
Kisae Petersen, Executive Director of IWAV, said, “IWAV is grateful to EVA BC and the Province of BC for responding to the long-standing need for community-based support for survivors of sexual assault. The new program will provide focussed, responsive, and compassionate care for people of all genders. As well, the inclusion of youths, ages 13 and older, allows IWAV and our partners to better serve young people who have experienced sexual assault.”
Charlie Barteaux, Program Manager, commented, “Often when there is a shift in the societal perception and response of an issue, it’s because of years of dedicated work by groups and individuals that made the moment of change possible. The Sexual Assault Response Program (SARP) is possible due to the voices and the hard work of many who have brought the issue of sexual assault and sexualized violence to the attention of government and society. It’s possible because of survivors who had the courage to come forward and report even though they knew the many challenges and obstacles ahead. Through our SARP, it’s our hope that we’ll be able to increase the number of survivors who come forward. Offering services that encourage dignity, strength, healing, and the empowerment of choice. Our primary message is ‘you are in charge every step of the way and in every decision made.’”
Barteaux added, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank our local heroes and services providers such as the The Circle (formerly known as SWOVA), Victim Services, members past and present of our VAWIR Committee, forensic nursing team at Lady Minto Hospital, Island Health, and the RCMP, and of course, our funder EVA BC.”