Jenna McDowell and Ketsia Houde-McLennan are the coordinators for the Sexual Assault Response Team. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Jenna McDowell and Ketsia Houde-McLennan are the coordinators for the Sexual Assault Response Team. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Yukon’s Sexualized Assault Response Team looking to expand beyond Whitehorse

Will look at how to best expand, with community needs in mind

The territory’s Sexualized Assault Response Team (SART) is working to expand services to the territory’s communities.

In a June 2 interview, coordinators Jenna McDowell and Ketsia Houde-McLennan said while the 24-hour phone line provides a toll-free number that can be reached anywhere in the territory, many other services offered are limited to the Whitehorse area. The team is working to change that.

Efforts are underway to determine exactly how to go about expanding services, knowing that each community has its own needs and may want an individual approach, McDowell said in a June 2 interview.

SART began its work two years ago, providing wrap-around support for anyone, regardless of age or gender, who has experienced sexual violence.

Among other initiatives, in Whitehorse that means access to emergency hospital care from doctors trained specifically to deal with sexual assault cases, 72-hour referrals to counselling and more.

While the phone line, which provides peer-to-peer support with support workers based in Whitehorse, is available throughout the Yukon, other services will depend on what is available in the community. Support workers are there to listen to those who call in and will provide options.

In the cases of communities, that can mean informing them about the community’s health centre, mental wellness hub or shelters.

“We’re here to support you whatever you choose,” said Jenna McDowell, stressing that it is up to the person to choose what, if any, option they want to take.

“They don’t have to report to police. They can talk to us, they can get access to counselling,” Houde-McLennan said. “They can get just STI testing and pregnancy prevention, if that’s all they want. They don’t need to go to the justice process if they don’t want to. If they want to, we’ll support them and provide as much support as we can for them to go through it.”

The response team has been in place for two years after what Houde-McLennan described as decades of activism from many working in health care, policing, women’s groups and others to see it come to fruition. It came out of the work of the sexual assault response committee, which continues to operate and which both McDowell and Houde-McLennan are part of.

“It really is decades of activism,” Houde-McLennan said. “We’re really sitting on the shoulders of dozens of people who worked for this to happen.”

While at times change seems slow to come, there have been improvements, said Houde-McLennan, who has worked in a variety of roles to address gender-based violence for 15 years.

“It’s amazing to push for something and then actually be able to help implement it and make it happen and improve it as we go along,” she said.

Looking back two years ago, Houde-McLennan noted victims of sexual assault who went to the hospital were met with general emergency room staff. Now, a doctor who has training in sexualized assault cases is called in. Similarly, those seeking counselling are referred to a specific counsellor within 72 hours. Previously many might have ended up on a months-long waiting list for counselling.

Both Houde-McLennan and McDowell emphasized its important to know the services are available to all Yukoners. It is also available for those who may be seeking options for someone who has disclosed to them.

“The sexual assault support line is for victims, but it’s also for anyone who has questions,” McDowell said.

The confidential SART line can be reached at 1-844-967-7275.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at