New Brunswick’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examinor (SANE) program is only offered in 12 of the province’s 23 hospitals, meaning survivors must often travel up to an hour away to get one.
“When you do have the courage to present yourself because that in itself is a daunting task, to be told that there are no (sexual assault evidence) kits available to you it can be very deterring for survivors to continue and try to access justice,” said Jacqueline Villeneuve-Ahmed, founder of She Matters, a national sexual assault survivor advocacy group, in an interview on Wednesday:
Her organization studied the availability of sexual assault evidence kits last year.
“We were quite shocked by some of the findings that in some provinces that seem to be smaller, kits weren’t available at every health centre and hospital,” she said.
Roxanne Paquette, the provincial coordinator for New Brunswick’s SANE program, explained they were only able to offer the program in the 12 New Brunswick hospitals that offer care around the clock.
“We need a facility that is open 24/7 because we all know that intimate partner violence or sexual violence period doesn’t occur Monday to Friday 8 to 8,” Paquette said in an interview on Wednesday.
Currently there is no way to administer the sexual assault evidence kit remotely.
“You have to remember that it’s an expertise and whoever is doing the assessment will have an influence on the patient’s healing process as well as the quality of evidence collection,” Paquette explained.
When asked about the frame of time in which an assault survivor should receive a kit, Paquette said there was no one answer, and that a sexual assault nurse examiner’s job was also to help emotionally counsel the patient.
“The window of evidence collection will not be the same,” she said, explaining that factors like gender and what was done affect how long viable evidence can be collected.
Villeneuve-Ahmed said though her organization would like to see more widespread access to sexual assault evidence kits, not every survivor chooses to use them.
“Some survivors never disclose that they have experienced sexual violence and may choose to share that experience with a counselor, others may choose to seek support through a sexual assault centre,” Villeneuve-Ahmed said.
“This may be at different periods; it may not always be immediately after a survivor experiences sexual violence.”