After months of campaigning from various groups in town, “rape kits” have finally arrived in Vanderhoof.
The kits contain a set of items used by medical staff for gathering physical evidence following a sexual assault which can then be used in a rape investigation.
Up until very recently, victims of sexual assault had to travel to Prince George for evidence collection if they wanted to press charges against their attacker.
A number of people in the community have been involved with bringing the service to Vanderhoof including Public Health, the RCMP, Omineca Safe Home, and a number of doctors and nurses from St. John Hospital.
Cpl. Tony Hanson from the Vanderhoof RCMP started the ball rolling last year when he noticed the rape kits were not available in town.
“When I arrived here I noted fairly quickly that the physicians in town were not performing the sexual assault kits and that we had to transport any victim of sexual assault who wanted a kit done into Prince George,” said Hanson.
“That was problematic for many reasons …one in terms of from a public health perspective, and from a logistical perspective on our behalf because we have to send at least one police officer all the way into Prince George and by the time everything is done you are looking at about six hours out of the day,” he said.
Together with Sylvia Byron from the Omineca Safe Home, Hanson started reaching out to Northern Health on the topic at the end of last summer.
A number of meetings were held since then with hospital and public health staff to work through different obstacles and concerns.
The main obstacle preventing staff from carrying out the rape kits was never the collection of the data, but the storage of the evidence…
“We understood and had been told that after doing the rape kit we then had to store the evidence in a special fridge and certain people have to have keys because its potential evidence so you have to prove that no one has had access to it or tampered with it….and our lab wasn’t set up to do that,” said Dr. Suzanne Campbell, a physician at St. John Hospital.
“But now we’ve been made aware that all we have to do is collect the evidence and hand it over to the RCMP and they do all of the rest,” she said.
In March a final meeting was held and members of the Prince George sex crimes unit attended to show the physicians in Vanderhoof how to use the kits.
“At that time the physicians basically made the unanimous decision that they would undertake to do the kits in the community as long as police were involved,” said Hanson.
The first kit was carried out in March this year.
Campbell hopes that more people will pursue the avenue of prosecuting a sexual attacker now that the service is available in town.
She added however, that even if a victim does not want to press charges, it is still important to seek medical attention.
“When somebody has been sexually assaulted they need to come and see the medical community,” said Campbell.
“Because whether or not you want to pursue a charge and whether or not you want evidence collected there’s the morning after pill for pregnancy and there’s sexually transmitted diseases to think about.
“We do an assessment for the risk of HIV and we have access to tests and medication to decrease the risk after possible exposure,” she said.
Options for medical care and support in town include the hospital, the Omineca Safe Home and Public Health.
Byron stressed that even if a victim doesn’t want medical attention, the Omineca Safe Home provides a network of support for women.
“We want to make it really clear that if you don’t want to press charges you still will get support from the doctors and if you don’t want to see a doctor you can still get support from the Omineca Safe Home,” said Byron.
“We really want to get the word out that if you’ve been assaulted you have the right to both emotional and physical support,” she said.