Ending Gender Based Violence

Provincial funding provided through the Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC) to establish and administer a multi-year emergency sexual assault services grant program and support the delivery of community-based emergency sexual assault response services in regions throughout B.C. is making a difference. Here are some examples of service providers in B.C. and the work they are doing to support survivors.

Port Alberni 

The Alberni Community & Women’s Services Society (ACAWS) in Port Alberni offers a variety of services, supporting women, children and men facing abuse and violence.

Recently, the Alberni Community & Women’s Society received $90,912 in provincial government funding, administered through the Ending Violence Association of B.C., to create a Sexual Assault Response Program (SARP), which has received overwhelming community support.

Although this is a new program for Port Alberni, the concept of SARP or SART (sexual assault response team) has been around since the 1970s.

Celine, who works as the Society’s Sexual Assault Response Program Coordinator, says she was drawn to her job as she knew from living in a small community that women take the brunt of most stressors in society.

When Celine received her first SARP crisis call to attend the hospital, she realized just how important her role is. She was able to provide immediate support and comfort to the survivor and was able to connect her to other services in less than 24 hours, which is not something a survivor would normally experience.

Port Alberni is an old mill town with a population of approximately 17,600 people, including more than 120 people who are currently living homeless. This town was also once home to the Alberni Indian Residential School, and many local Indigenous people have been directly and intergenerationally affected by the trauma experienced as a result.

Celine makes note that mental health and addictions issues are clearly visible in the downtown area, near where ACAWS is located.

ACAWS now has six trained SARP volunteers with 11 more being trained in the next round. When a sexual assault survivor arrives at the local hospital, a forensic nurse examiner will call ACAWS’ dispatch directly to ask for a volunteer.

SARP volunteers are equipped with a backpack containing extra clothing in various sizes, extra socks and underwear, water, snacks, service pamphlets and hygiene products. Volunteers can also arrange for transportation so survivors can leave the hospital safely. In addition, volunteers are available to stay during the forensic examination at the request of the survivor.

The volunteers are arranged into teams of two and they rotate every four days, resulting in each volunteer being on-call for approximately four evenings out of the month, which helps to cover those times when ACAWS staff are not able to respond.

Many acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has come with increased concerns for people at risk for domestic and intimate partner violence. However, Celine and her team are very aware that sexual assaults often happen on a daily basis. Many simply aren’t reported as survivors hesitate to go to the local RCMP or the hospital. 

Celine and her team hope that with the support and education that SARP can offer, this can be changed.

In 2020/2021, Port Alberni had a total of nine calls for a forensic nurse. Since launching SARP on July 1, ACAWS has already responded to 15 calls.

Fifteen survivors, all female, between the ages of 17 to 56, who were accompanied to the hospital and received care and personal support. All but four of these women were Indigenous. Three out of the 15 did not have a home, and 12 out of the 15 knew their attacker. Eight out of the 15 women had been sexually assaulted before.

Out of all 15 survivors accompanied by a member of the SARP team, only three of them had a friend or family member present. This means that if one of the team members hadn’t been there, the survivor would have undergone the forensic examination alone after being hurt and traumatized. Out of the 15 women who were accompanied, five needed a safe ride home but had no money for a cab or bus, so the team member was able to assist. Out of the 15 women, six needed to submit their clothing for forensic examination. The team member was able to provide new underwear, socks, a t-shirt and leggings. Had SARP not been there, the women would have left with only hospital clothes.

These small details are incredibly healing when it comes to the traumatic impact of a sexual assault, short and long-term. In addition, for the survivors who are interested in referrals and other support services, these can be provided in less than 24 hours.

“What inspires me in this work is the advocacy I witness in my colleagues, the dedication in my volunteers, and the incredible resilience of our survivors,” said Celine.

ACAWS Sexual Assault Response Program enables volunteers to advocate for sexual assault survivors, bridge gaps, and connect survivors to other services. Most importantly, SARP offers one-on-one emotional support from a trauma-informed perspective. At ACAWS, volunteers receive 20 hours of trauma-informed training and monthly meetings to continually build knowledge through workshops, activities and collaboration.

Through SARP, ACAWS also organizes educational community events and collaborates alongside the RCMP and mental health service providers.

Celine is also working on other educational initiatives and workshops, such as a two-day workshop for partners of sexual assault survivors and trauma-informed yoga for survivors of sexual assault, which is much needed in the community.

Going forward, ACAWS hopes to start community educational initiatives such as training for other organizations and public awareness campaigns.

Celine and her team advocate for more trauma-informed education with community partners, including the RCMP. “We are lucky to have many informed officers in our community who have gone out of their way to learn more about our program and how to better serve survivors of sexual assault. However, the more work we do in this field, the more gaps and barriers you can’t help but see. I hope, as a team, we can help minimize these. “

“Our educational pieces and the discussions we host with countless other agencies and services in town is really where our real work is,” said Celine. “We are big on collaboration and education. I just really want to express the importance of this program for our community and any gaps we see we aim to fill.”

Learn more about programs and services at the Alberni Community & Women’s Services Society:

Drop-in Centre: A program, accessible with its own entrance, where clients can help themselves to coffee and snacks while they watch television, make phone calls, read a book, or access one of our public computers. We also have racks of donated clothing and household goods offered for free. The drop-in coordinator creates themes for each day of the week, and clients can drop in for “Mindful Monday,” “Crafting Tuesday,” “Women’s Only Wednesday,” and “Popcorn & Movies Thursday.” Our coordinator brings in guest speakers, Elders to lead circles or tell stories, community volunteers who come in and teach crafts like quilting, sewing, painting, etc.

Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, our drop-in centre has been “window access only,” where clients can come by and express their needs through a drive-through window, and materials can be passed on. We also hand out safe injection kits, hygiene packs, Naloxone kits, cellphones and can make referrals to other services or offer on-site emotional support.

Community-Based Victim Services: Offers emotional support, referrals, information, and assistance and accompaniment through the judicial system for all adults and youth who are victims of intimate violence (including historical or recent sexual assault, stalking, abusive relationship, child abuse, etc.). A coordinator works collaboratively alongside RCMP and is the only one in the community which offers third-party reporting.

Outreach: A program coordinator works with youth and adults struggling with mental health and addictions and/or who are at risk of experiencing or have a history of intimate violence. Outreach can offer emotional support, referrals to other services, assistance with errands, accompaniment to appointments, help with budgeting, schoolwork, goal planning, and securing housing.

Stopping The Violence Program: Individual and group support (Making Connections Program) for women who have experienced or are experiencing intimate violence. This program comes from a trauma-informed, feminist perspective and believes that women can be their own heroes. Stopping The Violence offers a community connection to other women, empowerment, teaches coping skills, educates on the patterns of abuse and violence, offers emotional support, and goal making.

PEACE (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling, & Empowerment) Program: Individual counselling and group education for children and youth ages 3 to 18 who have been exposed to family and other relationship violence. The PEACE program aims to keep non-offending parents, guardians, or caregivers included in the education and counselling by empowering them to learn how to better support a child or youth. Due to COVID policies, the PEACE program has been offered completely virtually.

Port Alberni Transition House: A temporary emergency shelter for women over the age of 19 and their children fleeing abuse. The Transition House offers emotional support, referrals, meals, transportation, information and assistance, and accompaniment to important appointments.


Salmon Arm

The SAFE Society in Salmon Arm has worked in the anti-violence sector since 1979. Currently, it provides a continuum of services from emergency/crisis-oriented programs to long-term counselling and support. 

For years, SAFE has operated a 24-hour Transition House and crisis line. They often received calls for support from both survivors and others in the community looking for resources and support for people who have been sexually assaulted. This created intense pressure as there was a lack of options for survivors, including limited after-hours or weekend help.

The SAFE Society services a unique, vast geographical area of the Columbia/Shuswap, with the city of Salmon Arm a service hub to numerous smaller, rural communities spread over a large physical area on all sides of Salmon Arm. There are also four different Indigenous communities in the region with varied governance and services.

Many of the communities in the Shuswap are isolated from direct service providers. The Shuswap Lake General Hospital, courthouse, and most other services are in Salmon Arm and transportation options to larger, regional hubs such as Vernon and Kamloops are limited. 

The hospital in Salmon Arm is also smaller and does not have all of the services available in larger centres. Some smaller communities have their own RCMP detachment, while others do not. All of which can create significant barriers for survivors. 

The population in the area, which is a tourist destination, is much higher during the summer months, which places additional demands on service providers. 

SAFE operates a number of programs which include a Transition House with a 24-hour crisis line, PEACE Program, Stopping the Violence, Community Counselling, Community Based Victim Services, Outreach, Communication and Family Violence Prevention, Police Based Victim Services, and a new Sexual Assault Support Services program funded by a provincial grant administered through the Ending Violence Association of BC. 

The new program extends the services of a community-based victim services program with a designated office and support workers, available 24 hours a day to respond to sexual assaults. This includes accompaniment to police, hospital and transition house by a trained team member, as well as information on sexual assault, reporting options and resources available.

The team at SAFE is aware that many people who are impacted by sexual assault or sexual violence do not report to the police, seek medical care, or receive proper support and counselling. They see the impacts of this in people's lives for years and generations afterward. SAFE has also heard from other providers and community members who are desperate to find help for a survivor but with few options. SAFE has met with many champions who are passionate about supporting sexual assault survivors and helping to create better outcomes. 

With the new Sexual assault Support Services program, support workers are available day or night to accompany survivors to court and assist with statements or applications. They can also provide referrals for legal advice, including low or no-cost options, counselling, and other important assistance such as safety planning or protective orders.

The support workers can also help with access to practical needs like housing, transportation and food. The support workers will collaborate with other programs, with consent, for wrap-around care to best support survivors and help with access to appropriate referrals for children and non-offending family members. In addition, the program works on collaboration initiatives, education and prevention programs in the community.

Support workers also provide emotional support through what may be a very long process and bridge any gap while survivors are on a waitlist for counselling.

Assistance with transportation to services located outside of the area is a critical function of the new program. For example, SAFE Society staff can drive a survivor to Vernon or Kamloops to have an evidence kit collected and held at the hospital. Currently, the only option in Salmon Arm is for evidence kits to be turned over to the police immediately, which is not always something a survivor is ready to do directly following a trauma.

In addition, satellite office locations are being set up in rural and remote areas of the region, which will allow the program to provide support for people without the barrier of transportation.

All of these new services are crucial for a survivor to regain their sense of well-being and safety after a sexual assault. In addition, the new program helps other providers because, with a support worker to assist them, they are no longer pressured to know everything when it comes to responding to a sexual assault.

The SAFE Society knows first-hand that services that can support a survivor and provide all the information they need to make informed decisions is the best step towards healing. SAFE also expects to see an increased number of survivors getting the medical attention they need and finding the courage to make reports to police to keep communities safer.

If there was one thing the SAFE Society would like to make things better for survivors, it would be the creation of province-wide, dedicated and specialized support services so that all survivors have the best chance for recovery. SAFE believes that consistent, province-wide practices that provide more reporting choices, such as third-party reporting and options to store evidence kits at hospitals, along with timely referrals to community-based supports, will further help those rebuilding a life following an assault.

The SAFE Society strives to provide services that are feminist, intersectional, trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, and client centered. The society recognizes that persons from marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by violence and are actively working to reduce barriers to access in programs. 

More information on the work of the SAFE Society in Salmon Arm.


Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) is a community-based rape crisis centre serving all women, trans, non-binary, two-spirit, and gender diverse survivors in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

WAVAW offers counselling, crisis response, accompaniment, emotional support and assistance in navigating the often-lengthy process involved following a sexual assault.

WAVAW knows that immediate access to counselling and support is crucial for survivors to be able to recover. For many, the lack of these resources has serious consequences on people’s lives, mental and physical health, and the ability to move forward.

Recent provincial funding, administered through the Ending Violence Association of B.C., has helped WAVAW better respond to the needs of survivors with increased capacity and crisis response work covered by a dedicated team. This includes emergency accompaniment to hospital, police, court, and follow-up medical services such as mental health assessments, medical termination of pregnancies, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

For Ashley, WAVAW’s Manager of Victim Service and Volunteer Programs, it’s the strength and courage of survivors and being part of their healing journey that inspires the WAVAW team in their work.

When survivors share how WAVAW has positively impacted them and supported them through their trauma, Ashley and her team are inspired to continue.

In recent years, WAVAW has been recognized as a community leader for their advocacy and inclusion of trans, queer and non-binary people. For the team at WAVAW, which has been in operation for nearly 40 years, it is those who are too often marginalized who experience a disproportional amount of sexualized violence and suffer the most when services and supports are not readily available.

Although there have been advances made in understanding trauma and the complex needs of survivors, access to community-based emergency services remain a lifeline and reduce the long-terms effects of trauma.

WAVAW’s ultimate aim is to challenge and change thinking, actions and systems that contribute to violence against women. This means both supporting women who have experienced any form of sexualized violence and engagement with youth to develop knowledge and leadership, as well as the local community for prevention of future violence.

“There are so many ways we can support survivors,” said Ashley. “Addressing the harm caused by sexualized violence motivates all of us, and I am inspired by the courage of survivors and their desire to support others and give back to the community.”

Learn more about programs and services at WAVAW.




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