Two Newfoundand and Labrador organizations are hoping new sexual assault survivor care kits help people who are disclosing details about an assault.
The N.L. Sexual Assault Prevention and Crisis Centre in St. John's and Mokami Status of Women Council and Crisis Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay have created the kits for health centres, meant to provide basic necessities for people disclosing details in a hospital setting or to police at their home.
"Having to deal with kind of less supportive institutions, whether that is in a health setting or legal setting or with your family or friends, we're just kind of surrounded often by messages that are of less support," said Deirdre Connolly, the sexual violence prevention co-ordinator with the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre.
"In offering just one safe space, one safe conversation … you can really dramatically increase somebody's capacity to heal."
While accompanying a survivor to the hospital as a support person, Connolly said she realized there were gaps that could be fixed by organizations like the one she works for.
She began working to create the kits with items like a chocolate bar, toothpaste and a toothbrush, bottle of water, deodorant, face wipes, pregnancy test, tampons and pads and an informational handout.
Connolly said the Mokami Status of Women Council was the perfect partner, as the council already runs the Women Helping Women program that provides basic items to those in need. The council then contacted Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation, which agreed to fund the program with $6,000.
"We want survivors to know that they're believed and cared for and supported and so we just thought this was a great way to do that," said Stacey Hoffe, executive director of the Mokami Status of Women Council.
Simple act of care can dramatically help healing
Through talking with survivors, the centre has learned that one positive experience during the disclosure experience in a hospital can help the survivor on their healing journey immensely, Connolly said.
"They will get better, faster," she said. "They will perceive what happened to them less traumatically than someone who doesn't get that one positive experience."
The kits can be a material symbol of that and help combat "secondary wounding" that can happen if a person has a traumatic experience while disclosing the incident, Connolly said.
The kits, which will be assembled by youths, will hopefully be in clinics within the next month, Connolly said. Hoffe said having the kits assembled by youth helps share information about sexual violence with the next generation.
Sexual violence still pervasive, community-based solutions needed: Connolly
While the care kits are for people receiving medical care after being a victim of sexual violence, Connolly said not all people get that care.
Connolly said the purpose of the care kit is to facilitate a more humane and comforting experience for those who choose to take that route. She said reporting sexual violence to the authorities or any community member, should be entirely left to the survivor.
Another potential positive addition to the system in Labrador would be the SANE program, she said. The program trains nurses in how to administer a sexual assault kit, which can be used to gather DNA and other evidence of an assault. She said sexual violence continues to be pervasive in communities and needs community-based solutions.
"It's not something that happens exclusively in the evening, in the night, in the dark, in the shadows. It's something that's happening in our homes where we're meant to feel safe with people were met with people were meant to trust," Connolly said.
Connolly said a first step is to encourage more conversations and education about sexual violence and teaching people how to support and respond to survivors of sexual violence in day-to-day life to help them heal.