YWCA plans sexual violence response team
Wednesday, Sep 30, 2015 03:43 pm
Banff’s YWCA plans to develop a community response team to address sexual violence against women in the Bow Valley.
The YWCA last week received a $121,000 provincial grant to create a community response plan to sexual assault that will include a full range of services, from awareness, prevention and education through to direct, free counselling and crisis support.
“It would be the whole spectrum of services, but what we are missing in our community is dedicated counselling for victims of sexualized assault,” said Connie MacDonald, chief executive officer of the Banff YWCA.
“At the moment it’s limited. We have some services through Alberta Health and some through the hospitals and private practitioners and our goal is to provide dedicated free access to services.”
In Alberta, 58 per cent of women report they have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical assault since the age of 16.
However, MacDonald said, only six per cent of women ever report their sexual assault to police. The other 94 per cent struggle silently to cope with long-term effects.
“Sexual assault and abuse is a problem in every community,” said MacDonald.
“Bow Valley Victim Services report that intimate partner violence and sexualized assault are two of the most frequent occurrences responded to by program volunteers.”
Initially submitted as a three-year grant, the current $121,000 funding is for one year only.
Once a project timeline is established, the YWCA will work with Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services and local agencies to establish a working committee and hire a project manager.
The Y will also conduct a community assessment of resources, expertise and partnerships followed up by the development of a strategic framework and plan for a service model of delivery in the Bow Valley.
As part of the funding application, the YWCA received letters of support from the RCMP, Bow Valley Victim Services, Canmore and Banff FCSS, Mineral Springs Hospital, Primary Care Network, Child and Family Services and Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association.
“A community response team would be all the agencies that might deal with anyone who’s been involved in sexualized violence,” said MacDonald.
“Our goal is to ensure that we have appropriate services and outreach that will provide the best support for our community.”
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen welcomed the Y’s news.
“Banff is very lucky to have the Y working so actively in our community on social issues,” she said. “All partners involved can look at best practices and how we can assure the system is accessible and producing the right services.”
Meanwhile, the YWCA has launched a comprehensive needs assessment for a new dedicated shelter and transition housing in the Bow Valley for women and their children fleeing violence and sexual abuse.
Alberta has one of the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse in Canada – and the Bow Valley is not immune – and limited shelter facilities here often force women to leave their community and their jobs.
“We want to build a suitable purpose-built shelter and transition housing for victims of intimate partner violence and sexualized assault,” said MacDonald.
“We’re looking at building it in Canmore, and we want to make sure we’re really knowledgeable about what services are available and what gaps exist so that we can bring the absolute best model to the Bow Valley.”
The current Bow Valley women’s emergency shelter has only one dedicated space for women and their children fleeing violent situations, and offers no access to transition housing for women who need a place to stay after leaving the shelter.
Current services include safety planning, referrals, counselling, access to food, clothing and transportation and, if necessary, a safe place for women and their children trying to escape violence.
Between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, 20 women and 17 children went to the shelter, spending a total of 495 nights. Twenty-five people received outreach services and support for domestic violence related issues during this period.
The emergency shelter is operated by the YWCA, with support from other community agencies, including Bow Valley Victim Services Association, Banff and Canmore hospitals and the RCMP.
Alberta’s NDP government last month announced an additional $15 million for women’s shelters and transition housing, bringing the current provincial investment in women’s shelters to $49 million.
The new money will ensure a broader range of supports are available to women and children escaping violent homes, including counselling and help finding new housing or accessing financial assistance.
MacDonald said Banff YWCA is hoping to tap into some of that new money.
She said the YWCA is currently looking at design and financial models for a women’s shelter for the Bow Valley as part of a comprehensive needs assessment it is undertaking.
“With the government of Alberta just announcing an additional $15 million for shelters and transition housing, our timing is perfect,” said MacDonald.
“We’re trying to do as much background work and invest the time in planning because we know if we spend the time planning, we will have the best outcome on the other end.”