ACAWS is located on Upper Third Avenue. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

ACAWS is located on Upper Third Avenue. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Alberni region gets new sexual assault response program

ACAWS to benefit from $10M Ending Violence Association of BC grant program

The Alberni Valley will be getting a new emergency sexual assault response team.

Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS) is one of 23 organizations across B.C. that has received a grant to support the delivery of coordinated emergency sexual assault response services. The Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC) announced earlier in December that it is administering a three-year, $10-million Emergency Sexual Assault Services grant program.

Ellen Frood, ACAWS’ executive director, said they have received funding for approximately two and a half years.

“We’re in the process of hiring a coordinator,” said Frood. “That person is going to be responsible for creating relationships with key community members.”

The program will be available on an on-call basis as a 24/7 accompaniment program to a number of programs and services that already exist in the community.

“This will create a more immediate connection with individuals,” explained Frood. “Victims of sexual assault need immediate access to compassionate and comprehensive care. [ACAWS is] on the frontline of providing care, but this is a piece we’ve been missing until now.”

The program will offer culturally sensitive and trauma-informed services to survivors of sexual assault, including emergency response, emotional support and assistance with transportation. It will also develop a collaborative approach in the region and conduct service gap analyses to identify gaps and solutions in the Alberni Valley and in more rural areas.

Frood says the new program coordinator will educate different agencies about how to work with sexual assault survivors. They will also train and oversee volunteers, and work with West Coast General Hospital’s forensic nurses to help provide immediate “wrap-around services” for victims of sexual assault.

“When it comes to sexual assault, it’s a very hard thing to say,” said Frood. “Many do not want to report it. We want to give them the kind of support that will make them feel comfortable coming forward.”

All volunteers will receive “high-intensity” training, explained Frood.

“A really key component of this program is having volunteers,” she added.

With this new funding, volunteers will also be able to travel to rural communities, such as Bamfield and Ahousaht, to work with survivors of abuse and provide connections to ACAWS programs and services.

“We’re looking at where there are gaps and what do we need to do to fill in those gaps,” said Frood. “This program is desperately needed. It’s a program that’s been needed for quite some time.”

Frood says the program coordinator will be hired by January 2021 and volunteer training will begin shortly afterwards. The sexual assault response program will run until 2023.

“What we’re really hoping is that we do such a good job that they’ll renew the funding,” said Frood.

During COVID-19, domestic violence in Port Alberni has been on the rise. ACAWS has continued to provide support services and counselling throughout the pandemic. The society also runs the Transition House in town, which is open for women experiencing domestic abuse and their children. Women who do not feel safe making a phone call can text 250-206-1011 to reach out to the Transition House.

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