P.E.I. needs to do more to provide supports for victims of sexual assault, say Opposition Progressive Conservative MLAs.
During question period Thursday in the legislature, Tory MLAs questioned government on multiple issues related to sexual assaults in P.E.I. and what is being done to treat and support victims.
Sidney MacEwen said the Opposition office has been contacted by victims and lobby groups who say survivors of sexual assault are not getting timely access to trauma counselling.
He pushed for a commitment to increase the number of trauma counsellors in P.E.I. to ensure victims are not waiting days or weeks to speak to a professional in a time of crisis.
Health Minister Robert Henderson says government works hard to provide supports to victims of sexual assault across multiple departments.
He cited new services available at the new women’s wellness centre, which is currently being established at the Prince County Hospital.
“If any individual presents themselves with issues around sexual assault or other issues pertaining to women’s wellness, they certainly can contact our resources there and they will provide the appropriate services in a triage format.”
MacEwen also asked government whether it has considered implementing a “third option” program, which stores forensic evidence gathered from a victim in hospital for up to a year to give victims time to decide whether to report their assault to police.
Currently, victims must immediately provide rape kit evidence to law enforcement, which has been cited as a deterrent for some victims in reporting incidents, MacEwen said.
“We see in other locations where this (third option) has actually increased the reporting of sexual assaults, and at the end of the day that’s what we want – is people not afraid to come forward when they’ve been sexually assaulted.”
Government told reporters the province is working in partnership with the community on exploring the third option program, and those discussions are underway. It would require partnership with health-care facilities and police authorities, a government spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Opposition MLA Darlene Compton again pushed for more government funding to the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre for its crisis line, which is not staffed 24 hours a day. The Opposition raised this same concern last spring, but funding for the centre has not increased.
Status of Women Minister Paula Biggar responded Thursday by saying victims who have experienced a sexual assault can call the crisis line anytime, but they should also present themselves to an emergency room where there are nurses who are trained to handle these cases.
MacEwen says he was not satisfied with the responses from government to their suggestions, especially since they are hearing directly from victims that current supports being provided in P.E.I. are not meeting their needs.
“What we’re trying to find is twofold – one is to try and get people reporting sexual assaults… but on the other hand once these people do start coming forward we need to have the trauma counsellors that are there in place to try and help them.”
Premier Wade MacLauchlan stressed that both his government and the community are committed to fully supporting victims of sexual violence.
“One of the areas where we are making some headway, and there’s more work to be done, is the investigation and the understanding of the neurobiology … of trauma, and we are committed to that and we will provide the resources.”