A new pilot project aimed at supporting sexual assault survivors in rural Alberta has been announced in Grande Prairie. Speaking at PACE Centre Tuesday, Associate Minister of Status of Women Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk says $1 million is being invested across the province to ideally train two healthcare professionals at every rural hospital to perform sexual assault evidence kit exams.
“Every person who has been sexually assaulted deserves access to care and the collection of forensic evidence no matter where they live.”
Currently, if someone in a rural area of the province chooses to report sexual assault, they need to travel to the nearest urban centre, like the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital, to have physical evidence collected. Armstrong-Homeniuk says that can sometimes be a significant distance.
“It breaks my heart the thought of somebody having to drive in the back of a police car for five hours for evidence collection. So now, it’s great to know they can choose to go to their local healthcare facility or a neighbouring one and get the same quality evidence collection that they would in a city.”
Of the million dollars, $200,000 will go towards developing and delivering the training curriculum, $275,000 will go towards a gap analysis to determine what is needed, and the remaining $525,000 will go towards incentivizing the training in the way of $2,500 grants to train up to 190 healthcare professionals free of charge to them.
PACE CEO Jacquie Aitken says they are well aware of the amount of sexual abuse in rural areas like northwestern Alberta and is adamant that taking sexual assault more seriously with initiatives like this will encourage more victims to access support and deter offenders.
“The only way we can do this is by ensuring the victims throughout Alberta are treated with dignity and respect; ensure that good evidence be brought to the courts and then maybe we can ensure that we’re all giving the message to offenders that sexual assault is not acceptable.”
Aitken adds that, according to the 2020 Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services Prevalence Study, 43 per cent of adult Albertans have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Rural rate of sexual assault in the family are reported to be 3.5 times higher than urban rates, while common assault in the family is 4.7 times higher in rural areas than urban ones, and the rate of violent crimes against young girls is higher in the northern part of the province than the south.
“It is so important that we have rural resources to stop the sexual violence.”
Coming from a rural area herself, Armstrong-Homeniuk says she understands the unique challenges it can pose for women. She hopes this move shows victims that there is support for them.
“It’s not a burden you have to carry for the rest of your life; you shouldn’t be ashamed. There are people that will help you and are willing to help you.”
According to the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, sexual violence has the lowest police reporting rate of any crime in Canada at six per cent. Sexual crimes also have a conviction rate of just 0.3 per cent.