Yukon pledges 24/7 support for victims of sexual assault

The Yukon government is pledging to expand the services offered to victims of sexual assault who are not comfortable speaking to police. This could include nighttime visits with a point-of-contact worker, who would guide a person through available services.

Minister says point-of-contact worker could meet victims 'in a safe place even though it is 2 a.m.'

Jeanie Dendys, minister responsible for the Women's Directorate (right) hopes a new approach will encourage victims to come forward. 'When victims feel safe, informed and supported, there is a greater chance they will disclose sexualized violence,' she said. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon government says it's working to create a 24-hour support service to help victims of sexual assault.  

A telephone line would provide one point of contact for a variety of government services across different departments — including Yukon government social, medical and legal support.  

Jeanie Dendys, minister responsible for the Yukon Women's Directorate, described one hypothetical case Tuesday at a news conference. 

She said a woman who was assaulted could call the service in the middle of the night.

"A support worker answers her call and she is believed, she is supported, and provided information about her options. They decide to meet in person at a safe place even though it is 2 a.m. The support worker can provide crisis counselling and additional information," she said. 

Dendys says the worker could provide continued help, including referrals to counselling and guidance with the legal system. 

'Under-reporting is an ongoing concern.' 

The hypothetical case — in which a caller neither wants to go to police or hospital alone — illustrates a problem the government is trying to solve, says Dendys. 

Dendys said Yukon has one of the highest rates of sexualized violence against women in the country, but "under-reporting is an ongoing concern." 

She says three departments will be changing their services so that victims deal with one point-of-contact and build trust. 

"When victims feel safe, informed and supported, there is a greater chance they will disclose sexualized violence, access the supports needed for recovery and for their own healing journey. And they will take steps to hold the perpetrators accountable — which ultimately is what we want to see in our territory," she said. 

The government's new plan creates one new job for a co-ordinator. However Dendys says there will be significant reorganization of working roles and structures behind the scenes. 

"The purpose is to increase collaboration between healing, counselling, victim supports, medical and police services to ensure victims have wrap-around support, no matter where victims enter the system," she said. 

The Yukon government recently introduced a late-night social service pilot project in Whitehorse when it introduced a "one-door approach" for youth services, open evenings and weekends. 

Dendys said people may not realize what services are already available. 

This includes so-called "kits on ice," which allow women to collect evidence of a sexual assault immediately and have it kept in medical storage until they are comfortable reporting to the RCMP.

Justice minister supports changes 

Tracy-Anne McPhee, Yukon's minister of justice, says the government is not deterring people from calling police.

She said she hopes the new structure will encourage some people to come forward and eventually see their cases through to prosecution, even if it does take time.  

"We want individuals to be able to come to a safe place, so they are able and interested to proceeding through a process so that people can be held accountable for committing this crime," she said. 

More details are yet to be announced such as the initiative's budget and how many Yukon government workers would be moving to nighttime hours.

The new service — called a Sexual Assault Response Team — is set to be begin a limited first phase in Whitehorse in April.