The Yukon government plans to launch a Sexualized Assault Response Team (SART) to provide co-ordinated, low-barrier support for victims of sexualized violence.
Jeanie Dendys, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, made the announcement Tuesday morning at the Yukon Government Main Administration Building.
She was joined by Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee and Pauline Frost, the minister of Health and Social Services.
Dendys said the SART model is a victim-centred approach that aims to co-ordinate services that are already available and address any gaps.
There will also be a new after-hours response line to offer 24/7 support and a co-ordinator who will orient these services.
“The purpose is to improve integration and collaboration between healing, counselling, victims’ supports, medical and police services to ensure victims have
wrap-around support no matter where they enter the system,” Dendys explained.
She noted the initiative has been a priority for the government, as there is a high rate of sexualized violence in the territory.
“When victims feel safe, informed and supported, there is a greater chance they will disclose sexualized violence, access the supports needed for recovery and for their own healing journey, and they will take steps to hold the perpetrators accountable, which ultimately is what we want to see in our territory.”
Among the existing resources is the Kits on Ice program, where forensic sexualized assault evidence is stored anonymously while victims decide whether they want to report.
Third-party reporting is also offered through the Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society, where victims are able to anonymously report incidents to the RCMP to support future investigations.
To illustrate how the co-ordinated approach will work, Dendys gave the example of a 19-year-old woman contacting the crisis line at 1 a.m., then receiving support from other services.
“She is treated with respect and dignity,” Dendys said.
“She doesn’t have to retell her story to a counsellor or to victims service workers because it has been transferred confidentially.”
“We know that some victims don’t come forward because of lack of knowledge about what’s available,” McPhee said.
“We know that some victims don’t come forward because they don’t trust the services that are there or they don’t understand the full extent or we don’t have
good co-ordination between them.
“What we’re hoping is no matter where they decide to enter that process and seek help, that they will have the opportunity to receive all of the assistance they
need, they will be believed, it will be a positive experience, there will be coordination between those services,” McPhee added.
The SART is an initiative of the interagency Sexualized Assault Response Committee. That body has advocated for increased co-ordination and an
improvement to service models for the last decade. Similar SART models have long been operating in other jurisdictions.
Many local women’s groups providing support for victims of sexualized violence are also applauding the announcement.
Sarah Murphy, the program co-ordinator for Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, said what she likes most about the SART model is that it enables victims to make informed choices.
“I think something that’s a big problem is people don’t know what their options are; they think it’s either say nothing or go to the RCMP, and there’s lots of choices in between,” Murphy told the Star.
“It’s completely OK to not want to go to the criminal justice system, it’s not for everyone, it’s a very difficult process.”
Victims can access a variety of support services whether or not they choose to report, she said. Those include territorial victims’ services staff, counsellors and the women’s advocate.
Murphy also highlighted forms of accountability other than the criminal justice system, like restorative justice, the #MeToo social media movement and the Yukon Human Rights Commission.
“For perpetrators just acknowledging that it happened without making excuses, without blaming the victim can be so huge,” she said.
The government announcement came in the midst of the annual 16 Days to End Gender-Based Violence campaign, which kicked off on Nov. 25.
Events in Whitehorse so far have included a live art installation and film screenings.
A vigil for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women began at noon today in the main administration building. The 14 young
women who died in the Montreal Massacre on this day in 1989 were among those remembered. (See coverage of the vigil in Thursday’s Star.)
“Our theme this year was all about action and taking action on gender-based violence and encouraging people that you know we can talk about this forever,
but we need to do something,” Murphy said.
Dendys noted, “We wanted to bring this forward today in the 16 Days to End Gender-Based Violence to show our action; we are taking action as a
The SART is expected to begin in Whitehorse by the spring of 2018, with future plans to expand to other Yukon communities.
“We certainly know that the violence that we experience in Whitehorse is certainly being experienced in the small rural communities,” Dendys said. “All communities matter.”