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Past trauma resurfaces for victims of sexual violence during COVID-19: advocates

COVID-19 has seen past trauma resurface for victims of sexual violence: advocates
May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. Taz Dhaliwal finds out what victims can do after they've been sexually assaulted and how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting survivors

As May is Sexual Awareness Month, Alberta sexual assault workers are reminding others of how the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault can be traumatic, often leaving victims unsure of how to move forward.

This is primarily why Lethbridge’s YWCA started the Amethyst Project and offered a third option for victims of rape.

Traditionally, the only two available options were either a rape kit being done right away and the evidence would not be stored or victims opting to not do the kit.

“If someone chooses to have the third option, they would have the option to have a kit taken at the hospital with a doctor, where they gather evidence that can be used later for court proceedings and an investigation,” said Shannon Hansen, the CEO of YWCA Lethbridge.

Hansen adds the kits are kept anonymously and the evidence is stored for a year, and sometimes even longer if legal proceedings take longer. She says only employees of the Amethyst Project would have access to the information.

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READ MORE: Lethbridge sexual assault workers debunk myths during Sexual Violence Awareness Month

Hansen says this third option has been offered for five years now and it has been used regularly.

It’s been used by nearly a dozen women in Lethbridge so far this year, she said.

“It gives people who have experienced the traumatic event an option to have time to think about what is going to be their best choice and what they really want to do,” she said.

“It gives them a chance to respond to the trauma… to get counselling and support.”

Additionally, the CEO says if victims do not wish to involve police in their sexual violence case, that is possible and instead they can seek the guidance of councilors, along with other sexual assault experts.

Lethbridge Family Services offers victim counselling to those who have experienced sexual violence. They say there has been a rise in sexual violence cases during COVID-19, since a significant amount of sexual assault cases take place domestically.

READ MORE: Sexual violence a prevalent issue in Saskatchewan: researchers

There has also been a noticeable increase in trauma calls from victims of historic sexual assaults during this pandemic.

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“We’re seeing survivors have an increased response to this pandemic that’s almost like a mirroring,” said Lisa Lewis, the director of counselling at Lethbridge Family Services.

“It almost mirrors some of the fear and experience that has happened in the past.”

Lewis added that current measures put in place, such as self-isolation and a drastic decrease in human contact, is triggering past trauma for some survivors.

“What we do know about individuals who have experienced sexual violence — a lot of times, they feel guilty and they hold it in for a long period of time and they blame themselves for it.”

While the pandemic has temporarily eliminated the in-person support sexual assault facilities can offer, the Family Services centre continues to make both online and telephone sessions available.

Lewis acknowledges that these services may not always provide the same result as in-person services, however the centre is keen to find treatment that works best for for each individual victim that comes to them for help.

Lethbridge Family Services contracts their clients through the Chinook Sexual Assault Centre and they can be reached at 403-320-0110.

For more information about The Amethyst Project, you can call the YWCA Lethbridge at 403-329-0088. If you have been sexually assaulted and wish to contact program staff you can reach the crisis line at 403-320-1881 or the Toll Free number at 1-866-296-0477.

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