Grace Lore, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for gender equity, spoke with SAFE Society representatives on Nov. 29 about their sexual assault response program and the province’s support for it. (File photo)

Grace Lore, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for gender equity, spoke with SAFE Society representatives on Nov. 29 about their sexual assault response program and the province’s support for it. (File photo)

‘Pretty remarkable’: SAFE Society offers new expanded response to sexual assaults

Province provides funds, survivors urged to reach out for help

It’s not uncommon to hear stories in Canada of women who are sexually assaulted and then doubly victimized by the systems meant to protect them.

In Salmon Arm, though, the SAFE Society has recently expanded its ability to respond to sexual assaults, thanks to funding from the provincial government.

On Nov. 29, during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Jane Shirley and Paige Hilland of the SAFE Society, along with Grace Lore, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for gender equity, spoke about the importance of the funding. The 16 Days is an annual international campaign that kicks off Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until Dec. 10, Human Rights Day.

Hilland, executive coordinator for SAFE Society programming, has been spearheading expansion of the sexual assault response, which is two-pronged.

“The funding we received provides a dedicated Sexual Assault Response Program, which is the first of its kind in the Shuswap… It allows a support worker to be called out 24 hours a day to respond anywhere in the Shuswap, without any obligation to report information to the police or to anyone else. So it’s pretty remarkable.”

Secondly, although community coordination has always been required because the response is complex with a lot of agencies involved, the new funding has allowed the society to work together with other organizations to improve the response in the entire system.

Jane Shirley, executive director of the SAFE Society, noted the society had the infrastructure already in place so it was possible to roll out the services quickly when the funding was received.

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Lore referred to the society’s expertise and knowledge of the community, which she said is crucial to such a program.

“They were able to act and get it implemented pretty quickly, because they know the community, because they know survivors, because they knew what was needed. And I think that’s really fundamental for what this investment in sexual assault response around the province is all about,” she said, adding the provincial funding has enabled 24/7 support, “because survivors need to access those services when and where they need them.

Lore said she spent time working on the front lines and appreciates what Shirley and Hilland are doing.

“I know what this work means in the community and I know what it takes from you,” she said.

Asked about the need to deal with root causes of gender-based violence, Lore said she will be starting conversations in the new year with survivors, frontline organizations and other experts on a multi-year, across-government, gender-based violence action plan.

She said the funding to improve sexual assault response services is one example of what the province is doing already.

In March 2020, the province provided the Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC) with $10 million to establish a multi-year Emergency Sexual Assault Services grant program to support the delivery of co-ordinated, community-based emergency sexual assault response services in regions throughout B.C. Twenty-three organizations received funding, including the SAFE Society. In May 2021, EVA BC received an additional $10 million to assist more community-based sexual assault response service programs.

Lore said there’s more to be done. She noted that quality and affordable child care, for instance, can be crucial for someone fleeing domestic violence.

Lore said she wants sexual abuse survivors in the Shuswap and beyond to know they’re not alone, it’s not their fault, support is available and the province and local agencies are committed to the work. She encouraged survivors to reach out for help.

Shirley emphasized that no one is immune to domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse.

In the Shuswap, you can go to the SAFE Society website for many resources at safesociety.ca, call the SAFE Society 24/7 at 250-832-9616 or get online help from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at safesociety.ca/connect-with-us/ .

Sexual Assault Support Services accepts self-referrals plus referrals from service providers. Call 778-489-0508 or email sass@safesociety.ca

For after-hours emergency support services, call the SAFE Society Transition House at 250-832-9616 or request the hospital, police or other emergency services.

Hilland and Shirley expressed their gratitude for the many other service providers who work with them, which include Interior Health and the Shuswap Lake General Hospital, the police, Ministry of Children and Family Development, and many other nonprofits.

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martha.wickett@saobserver.net
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