Sexual Assault Response Team available in South Zone

June 15, 2017

Partnership improves co-ordinated sexual assault supports and services

MEDICINE HAT — Individuals who have been sexually assaulted in the Bassano, Bow Island, Brooks, Medicine Hat and Oyen areas now have additional options for care and access to a specialized team of physicians.

The Medicine Hat Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) launched earlier this month. It provides medical care and sexual assault examinations to people, 14 years of age and older, within 96 hours of the assault. This includes treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and other blood-borne infections, pregnancy prevention options and management of other medical concerns, as well as provision of resources for followup care, such as counselling. Children under the age of 14 years old are referred to a pediatrician.

“Medical care is always available to anyone who has been sexually assaulted,” says Dr. Lena Derie-Gillespie, Alberta Health Services (AHS) SART Team Lead and Medical Officer of Health, South Zone. “What’s changing is how we provide care so that patients will feel more supported throughout the entire process.”

Dr. Derie-Gillespie says all patients seeking care at an emergency department for sexual assault now have three care options depending on their situation: 

  • Medical care only. 
  • Medical care and immediate reporting to police. 
  • Medical care with anonymous evidence collection while the individual decides next steps, including whether to report the incident to police. 

SART will assist when a patient requests that forensic samples be collected, which could assist in a police investigation if the individual decides to report the assault to city police or RCMP. 

“Sexual violence can have psychological, emotional and physical effects,” says Staff Sgt. Trevor Humphries, Medicine Hat Police Service, Major Crimes Section. “Having a specialized team to provide immediate and ongoing support to victims will improve their care, as will providing them the option to report the crime to police when they are emotionally able to, without the loss of physical evidence.”

SART physicians work collaboratively with emergency department physicians, nurses and social workers, patients, local police (when requested by the patient) and the southeastern Alberta Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC). SARC is responsible for co-ordinating community services for people who have been sexually assaulted, such as access to counselling, education and other resources. 

Christina Johnson, SARC Executive Director, says that by working in partnership, more support can be provided to the people who need it most. 

“We've seen a 350 per cent increase in demand for our counselling program within the past year,” says Johnson. “As more sexual assault/abuse survivors come forward, service providers need to be prepared and work together.” 

Comfort kits, which could include items such toiletries, clothing or blankets, are provided to sexual assault survivors when attending the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital or accessing services through Victims Assistance.

From 2012 to 2017, emergency departments in Medicine Hat, Brooks, Oyen, Bassano and Bow Island provided care to 114 individuals who reported being sexual assaulted. 

From April 2016 to March 2017, SARC has assisted 212 individuals affected by sexual violence. Of these clients, approximately one in four reported the incident to police and about six per cent accessed medical care following the assault.  

AHS provides sexual assault response teams and services throughout Alberta.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Lisa Squires
AHS Communications
403-581-9036 (cell)

Rita Sittler
Medicine Hat Police Service

Richelle Oerlemans 
SARC Communication and Administration Specialist