Counselling sessions on hold at Saskatoon sexual assault centre due to COVID-19

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WATCH: Despite the limitation on services, survivors of sexual violence are not without support during the pandemic – Mar 30, 2020

A Saskatoon organization has temporarily halted counselling sessions for sexual violence survivors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre’s (SSAIC) counsellors are working from home, but they aren’t facilitating their usual sessions with survivors over the phone or video chat.

SSAIC executive director Faye Davis said they gave phone counselling a try when the pandemic was in its early stages, but working from home came with distractions, such as child care demands.

“When we provide a service, we want to ensure it’s a good service,” Davis told Global News.

READ MORE: Domestic violence shelters in Saskatchewan deemed essential during COVID-19 pandemic

“To be able to focus whole-heartedly on a client for an hour and not be interrupted is something some of [the counsellors] didn’t feel they could ensure.”
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Some clients had the same problem, she said, while others declined counselling over the phone because they felt it wouldn’t be as helpful as in-person sessions.

Taking multiple confidential client files out of the office was also a concern, she said.

As the novel coronavirus curve climbs, demand for the centre’s counselling services has decreased, she said. Davis said that’s likely because people are getting accustomed to the demands of their new normal.

“While they meet those greater needs, they often put their own mental health needs aside for a little bit,” Davis said, noting she expects demand to ramp back up in the coming weeks.

“If demand is … warranted, we certainly will bring more counsellors back in and just work really, really hard on our hygiene and cleaning and social distancing.”

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In a time when escaping intimate-partner violence is particularly difficult, survivors of sexual violence are not without support.

READ MORE: Domestic violence rates expected to spike amid social distancing, advocacy group warns

Davis encouraged people to call the SSAIC’s office, where one counsellor takes intake calls on weekday afternoons. While full counselling sessions are on hold, addressing immediate needs and pointing people to other resources.

The centre’s 24/7 crisis line is also available, along with an online toolkit for coping.

“We want to be there for people that are struggling,” Davis said.

People in need of one-on-one counselling can get in touch with other agencies providing help over the phone, including OUTSaskatoon.

Counsellor Iris Akbar said it’s crucial to provide continued support to people who have experienced gender-based violence.

“It’s important to be there for the client,” Akbar said.

“We do hope that individuals or persons who actually go through this know that they can reach out to us either via telephone or … email.”

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READ MORE: LGBTQ2 community sees gaps in health care services, calls for proper training

“The only thing that changed is the mode of talking to a counsellor,” she said.

“Someone still can have a very good therapeutic relationship with a counsellor, even on the phone.”

Counselling services are available at several agencies around the city, including Family Services Saskatoon and Catholic Family Services, according to their websites.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence, please call one of Saskatchewan’s regional crisis lines.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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