The immediate reporting of sexual assault crimes is crucial to ensuring the victim’s health and to building a legal case, said Donna Joyce, manager of the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Program at Kingston General Hospital (KGH).
“A lot of the support that we offer to patients has to be done within the first 72 hours after the act has been committed,” she said. “It is important that victims see us within the first 72 hours after an assault because we have to have the forensic evidence within the first 72 hours or it is of no use to us.”
Recording the number of patients who use the program and their ages has helped to monitor trends over time.
Joyce said the program treated more than 100 victims of sexual assault and domestic violence last year.
“We supported 128 individuals. Ninety of those were adults and 50 of those were sexual assaults in the last fiscal year. The last fiscal year was between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008.”
Joyce said although there is no proof that Kingston has a higher rate of sexual assault amongst university students, more than half of the sexual assault and domestic violence crimes treated were of university age.
“I can tell you that 48 of the 90 women that were treated here last year were between the ages of 18 and 24.”
Joyce said the program, which has been in operation in Kingston for five years, is one of a network of 34 Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence centres running out of hospitals throughout the province.
Joyce said she has noticed an increase in sexual assaults among young people.
“The main trend that I’ve noticed is in respect to age. It’s been a fairly consistent rise over the past few years in the number of sexual assaults between the ages of 18 and 24. My colleagues across the province have noticed the same thing.”
Joyce said although the program is free and confidential, there are still many victims of sexual assault who choose not to seek help.
“There is that definite distinction between the number of sexual assaults reported and the number of sexual assaults that are committed,” she said. “Despite our encouragement to come forward and ask for help in a confidential manner, there are still many victims who choose not to.”
Kim Purton, community education co-ordinator at Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, said statistics on sexual abuse are hard to track.
“The statistics that are widely used across Canada are that only six per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police,” she said in an e-mail to the Journal. “The majority of assaults are reported to friends, counsellors, family members, et cetera, because sexual assault is such a taboo topic it is very hard to get statistics.”
Purton said her agency does not release its client records due to the sensitive nature of the crimes.
“It is unfortunate that people need numbers to realize this is an extremely common crime. We have many clients who have never gone to the police. Our client files are confidential and we only keep minimum info in them and only what the client consents to.”
Joyce said the program offers around-the-clock care to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, providing them with a safe and confidential resource.
“We provide a 24/7 response for victims of sexual assaults and violence within the first 72 hours after the act has been committed.”
Although the program will provide service to victims after the first 72 hours, Joyce said after that time forensic evidence can’t be collected.
Joyce said four steps are taken upon the victim’s arrival.
“The first priority is whether or not they wish to report the crime to the police. Then we collect forensic evidence through a sexual evidence kit,” she said. “After that we test the victim for STIs, pregnancy and HIV. Following that, the victim is immediately given crisis counselling along with follow-ups with a social worker and nurse for the victims and their families.”
Joyce said her team is the only program in Kingston that collects forensic evidence after a sexual assault has occurred.
“The sexual assault forensic kits are distributed by the Centre for Forensic Science. We’re the only team in Frontenac, Lennox and Addington that has these kits,” she said.
Joyce is focused on catering to the needs of each individual patient.
“They are a very systemic way of gathering evidence,” she said. “Everything is patient-driven for us. We don’t determine what she uses in the kit, she determines what she wants to use for us.”
Included in the sexual assault kits are containers for urine and blood samples, medications and grooming tools such as scalp and pubic brushes.
Joyce said the program also administers Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medication for those who have been potentially exposed to the HIV virus.
PEP medications refer to anti-viral medications, which are taken after exposure to the HIV virus to reduce the risk of infection.
The sooner the medication is
administered, the more effective it is.
“It is medication we make available to victims of sexual assault,” she said. “All patients who have signs of vaginal, oral and anal penetration are given the medication.”
Joyce said the program follows-up with the victims after their initial visit.
“We have a social worker and she will go out and go to the victim at her home. Whether it’s residence or her home, she will come to the patient,” she said. “We also have a nurse who does follow-ups. She will go to the victim two to three days after the incident occurred to give the test results. She will also follow up with the patient one, three and six months after the incident.”
Joyce said the program provides additional support to those victims who choose to pursue legal action against their attacker.
“If the victim was strangled we will take pictures and if there is future evidence of abuse, we will take more pictures upon the patients’ request to help her with her case,” she said. “If the victim is not sure what she wants her next step to be, we will freeze the evidence for her so she is not forced to make a critical decision at a point of crisis.”
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