Report: Halifax Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program helps survivors and prosecutors
Report suggests if people throughout the system are more “trauma-informed,” there may be less drop-off in sexual assault cases
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Susan Wilson says measures need to be taken to prevent sexual assault survivors from suffering additional trauma as they take their case through the justice system.
“It’s re-victimizing to go through a police statement and have to tell – very specifically and graphically – what happened,” Wilson said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Wilson is the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program coordinator at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax. She was one of the speakers following the release of the SANE Program Evaluation Report.
The report outlines SANE’s positive impact while also pointing to ongoing challenges.
“The extent to which the victim feels supported or isolated through the process becomes critical to their decision-making,” said Peggy Mahon, the program evaluator.
According to the report, Avalon’s SANE program has helped the mental and physical health of patients.
In addition, evidence documented through a SANE can “corroborate or add to what the victim has said,” helping the criminal investigation.
However, the SANE program does not appear to affect the discontinuation of cases. This “dropping off” rate is attributed to factors such as inconsistencies in the victim’s statement or the victim’s reluctance to go forward.
Many of these reasons, Mahon explained, “are directly related to the effects of trauma experienced by victims of sexual assault.”
“The way a sexual assault case works is the victim becomes central to the case being successful,” she said. “So if the victim doesn’t recall or has inconsistencies, then I think that creates some challenges in the current system.”
The report suggests that if people throughout the system are more “trauma-informed,” there may be less drop-off. While the police already have a specialized sexual assault unit, Avalon recommends specialized courts as well.
“In a specialized court, the whole court process is going to have a better understanding of the specific challenges around sexual assault cases,” said Mahon.
Deputy Chief Bill Moore of the Halifax Regional Police spoke about the report after the press conference.
“We’re doing some things very well, and we have some work to do in some other areas,” said Moore. “It’s a chance for us to really grow.”
While Moore said HRP has a trauma-informed approach, he understood the recommendation for it to expand.
“We are part of the criminal justice system, and we’re only as good as the weakest piece,” said Moore. “We need to work together to provide a good level of service to these victims.”