“We’re stretching our arms open to welcome as many people as possible.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 17, the Victoria Sexual Assault Clinic opens its doors to the public. The clinic is an offshoot of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC), designed to house services and resources provided by medical professionals, local police, and VSAC staff under one roof.
“It’s not different [from the centre],” said Chaw-win-is, VSAC’s Interim Prevention Manager. “It’s a beautiful new and important addition.”
“[The clinic] is an alternative space for people [who have been recently sexually assaulted] to access medical care, forensic care, crisis support, options for reporting to police if they’ve been recently sexually assaulted,” said Lindsay Pomper, VSAC’s Coordinator of Volunteers.
For many survivors of sexual assault or violence, access to these resources outside of a hospital or police station is crucial. The clinic was created as an alternative to a hospital, said Chaw-win-is. The space is more private and confidential, and less of a sterile and impersonal environment.
There are any number of reasons why people who have experienced sexual violence or assault may not go to a hospital — having to go into public spaces after recently being assaulted may be difficult, said Chaw-win-is. Moreover, the possibility of encountering relatives or community members only heightens the fear and vulnerability survivors may already be experiencing. There’s also the possibility of having to disclose your Trans status to a triage nurse, and meeting people who may not be specifically trained in dealing with gender-based violence.
“Being able to go somewhere that feels less institutionalized and less public, much more private, is such a huge boon and advantage to us,” said Alexa Robin, VSAC’s Trans Inclusion Coordinator. “Especially somewhere where we know the people are trained to be inclusive and to think about our needs.”
It is clear walking through the space that every detail, right down to the colour of the walls, has been carefully considered with the survivors’ needs in mind.
Clinic staff have undergone Trans-inclusion workshops, and Chaw-win-is will be leading additional training pertaining to the unique needs of indigenous women. In order to ensure their resources and services are accessible and inclusive, the clinic is focusing on building the capacity of their staff and volunteers to address the current gaps in institutions and services.
“I feel like accessibility is at our core for the motivation for the clinic itself because as a centre we kind of want to get to the root of things,” said Robin. “And I feel like you can’t really address sexualized and gender-based violence without confronting all of the different intersections, and recognizing colonialism and our ideas of sex, race, and gender that are born out of that.”
“We can’t just assume people are always able to get the services they need through the systems that exist, and we can’t just focus on cis white women: there are so many more people impacted by this type of violence, and even more so,” they added.
Ultimately, the clinic prioritizes the needs and desires of survivors above all else. The level of medical or forensic care, or any interaction with support staff, police, or RCMP is decided by the individual. Furthermore, survivors can bring their support with them, be it family, friends, or partners.
“That would also be an important thing I’d want to tell to anybody going to college or university too, that they can choose to come with their support if they want to, or not,” said Chaw-win-is.
“[The clinic is] somewhere they [students] can get accessible services . . . [and] we can pick them up in a cab — I think that’s a big point that is often missed . . . we can get them here. They don’t have to take a bus. They can come here 24 hours a day,” said Robin.
“Basically, we’re there to listen, to hear what you need, let you know what your options are, and go from there. I think it’s a collaborative process,” said Pomper.
“You don’t have to be alone,” Chaw-win-is added.
Once open, the clinic can be accessed 24 hours a day by people of all genders, 13 years of age and older, through their 24-hour Crisis and Information phone line at (250) 383-3232.
Update Feb. 18, 2016: We’ve included a few tweets from VSAC on the day of the new clinic’s grand opening.
— VSAC (@VSACentre) February 17, 2016
And we are open! pic.twitter.com/CcfVa6EfbF
— VSAC (@VSACentre) February 18, 2016