For survivors of sexual violence the road to recovery often begins with a call to a sexual assault support centre — a place where safety, comfort and help is offered.
The Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) serves queer women through a 24-hour hotline, individual counselling sessions, support groups and ongoing advocacy. In October 2008, SASC funded a needs assessment program specifically for queer women survivors of sexual assault.
Susan Havart, of the SASC collective, says that the centre is continually updating the services they offer to diverse communities. Still, this represented their first queer outreach assessment program. The aim was to define the needs of queer women and what services can SASC make accessible to lesbians, bisexuals and trans women.
“We were able to implement some of the priorities that we had. Queer outreach was one of them,” she says.
The assessment, which was run by a part time coordinator, Monika Thakker, ended in March 2009. A final report is expected to be released before the end of the year, based on findings from outreach groups, forums and feedback from clients. It is not clear whether
“Things have changed in the queer community over the years, we needed to get more with the language, how the identification has changed, so SASC has been going through more of an updating. It is really important to us to be responsive to the needs of the women we are working with,” Havart says.
SASC, which was started by queer women in 1983, has always addressed issues facing the queer community and, like other centres in Ottawa understand that diverse populations, because of their different backgrounds — culture, sexual orientation, religion — may have different needs to the mainstream population.
The three main sexual assault centres in Ottawa are SASC, The Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre and Le centre d’aide et de lutte contre la violence a caractere sexuel (CALACS) which serves the Francophone population.
Volunteers and support workers in all of the support centres accompany women to the hospital and to the police station after an assault and, if necessary, will advocate for their rights.
Ikram Jama is the public education coordinator of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC).
“Over the past ten years, the Centre has done a lot of work in diversity and that lesbians needs are met and incorporated in our programs. The training program has been reworked and changed over the years based on needs of the clients,” says Jama.
Although the sexual support centres in Ottawa share the goal of eliminating sexual violence, Krista Gray-Donald, co-chair for the Sexual Assault Network believes there is a need for specialized services that cater to the queer community and that the centres do meet the needs of the queer women that are seen.
“I do believe that there is a need, and that a properly executed program would help,” says Gray-Donald.