Multiple resignations at the Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) Unit at Health Sciences Centre (HSC) in Winnipeg reduced the trained nursing casual staff from thirteen to six in recent weeks. In late March, a spokesperson at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre stated doctors and nurse practitioners are pitching in to fill the gap while new permanent nurses are being trained. Those individuals should be in place by June,
The Manitoba Nurses Union has said some sexual assault victims were being told to not shower, and to come back later due to a staffing shortage in the program.
Genesis House Executive Director Ang Braun shared the impacts this kind of gap in service may have on sexual assault victims.
"Not to have a shower, not to wipe, and then told to go home, I think it's a huge deterrent for people. In the first place, ever making it public you've been sexually assaulted is extremely difficult, but now you're in this position where you're told to go away. I'm thinking that would be a deterrent for many people to even go through with it, to go through with the exam or any of that, because it would just be too hard."
She noted, between making the victim feel safe and making sure the examine is done precisely and correctly, so it isn't thrown out in court, puts a lot of pressure on the staff working with the SANE program.
She said this in not just a Winnipeg problem. Sexual assault victims are often referred to SANE from this area, due to the level of expertise required to carry out the examinations and collection of evidence.
"The same program deals with not only sexual assault. My understanding is there's also a domestic violence component, and of course, sexual assault can happen in the context of a relationship. It's not exclusive to the guy standing behind the bushes. Sexual assault can be within a relationship."
She acknowledged, government has tried to support the efforts, but may have miscalculated how busy they would be, how many people would come through the doors and who the victims would be. She said this speaks to the level of need, and the level of preparation in the system going beyond the examinations and treatment of the trauma. Braun surmised there is a lot to learn from in this scenario.
On making the treatment and expertise available in the local area, Braun said they have considered it.
"You know, we have tried. It was one of the projects on our list a few years ago, when we're looking at all the needs, and that was one of them. One of the SANE nurses was doing a presentation at our Women's Health Expo. I think there's this idea, that in our area, it doesn't happen, because women aren't talking about it, women aren't going to the hospital, and I think the truth is there's a recognition there's probably going to be a gap, and the hard road it will be. People are just making a decision ahead of time, 'I'm not doing that. I will deal with my own mental and physical health otherwise.'"
Braun recognized this type of thinking, and the fact not everyone knows who assaulted them, or how many there were. For example, in cases where drinks have been drugged, people may choose not to get a rape kit done, or to press charges, but Braun emphasized the need to get physical healthcare done, because there may be unintended consequences from the assault.
While the physical aspect is one necessary area of care, Braun encouraged victims to still get the emotional help and supports they need to heal from the trauma.
"Whether you go ahead with the exam, and go through the legal process and the judicial system is one piece. The piece I would really focus on, though, is to ensure the person gets the emotional support they need. So, if one system isn't working, or one system is at this point kind of iffy or failing, at least make sure you get the treatment and the help you need emotionally, so you can heal from what has happened. Even if the person responsible isn't ever found guilty in a court of law, ultimately, your health and well-being is the most important."
Meanwhile, Sunday afternoon Families Minister Rochelle Squires announced a new community-based sexual assault crisis response and healing program will expand the availability and accessibility of specialized services and supports for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
The Manitoba government is committing $1.3 million to phase one of the program, including the program’s initial site at Klinic Community Health and a community spoke site at Ka Ni Kanichihk that will be served by a mobile team. Plans for future phases includes developing spoke sites across Manitoba and establishing longer-term programming, noted Squires.
The new program will complement Manitoba’s Provincial Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence program, increasing the resources available.