Crystal Schick/Yukon News file Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee at a press conference in Whitehorse on July 9, 2019. McPhee was among the government officials on-hand to announce the launch of the sexualized assault response team (SART) program.

Yukon government launches sexualized assault response team program

The program aims to provide “wrap-around” support for victims of sexual violence in the territory

The Yukon government has officially launched its sexualized assault response team (SART) program, an initiative that provides “wrap-around” support for people who have experienced sexual violence.

A number of government officials and agency representatives were on-hand for the announcement at the Yukon legislative assembly building on March 6.

“I’m so pleased that we’ve come together to offer an interagency coordinated and consistent support system for victims of sexual assault and violence in the Yukon,” Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee told reporters.

“No matter where a victim reaches out, all host services will be available. I’m confident that SART will make a world of difference to those who access it and it is all about healing and support for victims.”

SART includes both new services and better coordination and cooperation between existing service providers. Key components include the launch of a Yukon-wide 24-hour phone support line for victims and training for medical professionals at the Whitehorse hospital on how to care for sexual assault victims.

Police, medical professionals and other systems a sexual assault victim may interact with also now have a better understanding of each others’ roles, and will be able to better refer victims to other agencies if a victim requires support they can’t provide.

As well, there are now SART support workers available on evenings and weekends who can, upon request, accompany victims to the hospital or to report their cases to police, help them access wellness care, or even to just be a supportive listener, McPhee said.

“Whatever step a victim may be on in their journey, a support worker is there for them,” she said, emphasizing that all SART supports “are available to anyone who’s experienced sexual assault regardless of their gender, age or sexuality or the kind of assistance they might need.”

The Yukon government had originally announced the development of the SART in December 2017, with an initial implementation date in spring 2018.

However, the Yukon’s minister responsible for the women’s directorate, Jeanie Dendys, said the government soon realized it wouldn’t be able to accomplish that in just six months.

“We had had a lot of work to do internally and with all of our partners to ensure that services to those who experience this type of violence have the wrap-around and trauma-informed services that they needed,” she said.

Dendys later explained the work involved breaking down “silos” between departments and non-government agencies. McPhee added that the time needed to hire people to fill the new positions, such as the support workers and a support coordinator, as well as the training of people already working within systems and working with the Yukon Employees’ Union, were all things the government hadn’t initially anticipated.

The SART is now fully implemented in Whitehorse. People living in the communities can call the 24-hour support line and access care at mental wellness and substance use hubs. Yukon RCMP officers across the territory have also received new training on how to handle sexual assault reports and cases.

In an email, department of justice spokesperson Fiona Azizaj wrote that the “vast majority” of funding for the development and implementation of SART came from existing departmental budgets,” and that $640,000 has been budgeted for the upcoming year “for the creation of new supports.”

At the press conference, McPhee, Dendys and Yukon Heath and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost noted that the Yukon has one of the highest rates of sexualized violence in Canada, and that implementing SART had been a high priority for the government.

McPhee, in particular, said the SART is a service she’s “very passionate about,” and that she was involved in the implementation of a SART “almost 40 years ago” when she was a university student.

“It is a model I believe in, it is a model I know will help victims here,” she said. “We know that every victim of sexualized assault needs to track their own individualized path to healing. This service and the professionals who have been specially trained to suport victims’ medical and wellness needs will ensure that victims of sexual assault in the Yukon have access to the support that they need.”

The 24-hour SART phone line, which is monitored by trained professionals, can be reached at 1-844-967-7275.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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