‘Can’t express how crucial it is’: SASS addresses sexual violence with action plan

The province announced funding for programming offering support to victims of sexual violence. File/ Global News

Zach Miller knows the importance of having a strong support system in place for sexual assault survivors.

At age 10, Miller was abducted from his family’s farm in Whitewood, Sask., in 2006.

Peter Whitmore held Miller and a 14-year-old boy from Manitoba captive at an abandoned farmhouse near Kipling — sexually assaulting them both.

They were kept there for two days.

“The worst part about it is that we didn’t get the proper help until an out-of-province organization — the Canadian Centre of Child Protection — got involved in us and got us the help our family needed,” Miller said.

“When it comes to crime, especially crimes that involve children — making sure they get the help they need and the family gets the help they need to stay together — that is the most crucial thing.”

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Unfortunately, sexual violence is all too common in Saskatchewan.

Statistics Canada claims there are about 104 incidents per 100,000 people in the province — representing individuals in critical need of care and support.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan resident wanted on Canada-wide warrant for alleged sex crimes

This is why the Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) came up with an action plan, released in May.

It outlined key items to address sexual violence and promoting safer communities.

“The alarming part is that we know the cost of violence is immense and the trauma it leads to. Sexual violence is the root cause of a lot of social issues,” said Patience Umerewneza, SASS action plan coordinator.

“When you think about how high it is, and the implications of that high rate to the province, it means we have a lot of people walking around with unresolved trauma…not just individuals, but families and communities.”

Umerewneza said that trauma leads to other health and wellness issues including chronic and mental illnesses along with addictions.

READ MORE: Schools tackle sexual assault even before students hit campus

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“[It impacts] their overall well-being, their ability to be productive in society, their ability to contribute in a way that’s meaningful…and then to pass on to the next generation — a healthy way of life,” Umerewneza said.

“It’s beyond an individual issue.  It’s a social issue, it’s a public health issue, it’s a systemic issue and it also has a lot to do with our history of inequality and colonization in Canada.”

Of the 22 action items in their action plan, SASS outlined four that need to be addressed immediately.

First, changing the attitudes and norms that perpetuate sexual violence through more education and public awareness initiatives.

Second, expanding sexual violence first responder training to include community leaders and all human service sectors.

READ MORE: Plan announced to take action on sexual violence in Saskatchewan

Third, expanding the existing trauma and violence informed counselling and training by building stronger partnerships.

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Finally, exploring ways to expand Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training to those working in urban, rural and remote emergency facilities.

“I can’t express how crucial it is to have these kinds of tools…we need to as a province, as a country, stand behind [survivors] to let them know they’re not alone,” Miller said.

Front-line agencies recently received a $330,000 increase in funding over the next two years from the Ministry of Justice to expand trauma and violence-informed counselling.

Umerewneza believes much more is needed. Not just funding, but more support services and an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“While the investment they provided is welcomed and much needed, it’s not enough because it’s not just affecting their ministry and it has to be reflected in other areas,” Umerewneza said.

READ MORE: Sask. sexual assault strategy expected in spring 2019

“It’s an issue that is widespread, complex and it has to be tackled strategically.”

SASS said it’s not a call out to government, but more of a guidance tool going forward.

“This is not specific to the government by any means, they are definitely one of our audiences in terms of keeping this issue on their radar and recognizing this is an epidemic,” said Kerrie Isaac, SASS executive director.

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“Our audience is everyone. We all need to work together on this issue.”

Miller agrees with its importance and believes SASS’s action plan could go a long way in creating a positive change.

“Sexual violence is on the rise, yet there is nothing out there for them. There’s nothing out there for the families, there’s nothing out there for the victims, there’s no one to take care of them within this province and we need that,” Miller said.

SASS worked with a number of representatives on the project including people from provincial, federal and Indigenous governments along with law enforcement and violence prevention organizations.

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