Toronto

Rape kits not available at all hospitals, sexual assault survivor warns

A Barrie woman is warning the public that not all hospitals collect rape kit evidence after she learned she had to go to an emergency room in another city for a kit.

Green Party candidate Lynn Therien says she had to travel to another city for a kit

Green Party candidate Lynn Therien says she went to Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in 2013 after she was assaulted, only to learn she would have to go to an Orillia hospital for a rape kit. (CBC)

A Barrie woman is warning the public that not all hospitals collect rape kit evidence after she learned she had to go to an emergency room in another city for a kit.

Lynn Therien, the Green Party candidate for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, told CBC Toronto she went to Barrie's Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in 2013 after she was sexually assaulted, only to learn she would have to go to an Orillia hospital for a kit. 

"They were really kind and made me feel taken care of until they told me that they didn't actually offer the service there where they collect evidence, the rape kits," she said.

Therien says with the June 7 election approaching, she says it's important for people to be aware of the issue surrounding the kits. 

"I think it's important that politicians are talking about this, and it seems like right now they're not," she said. 

Today, she considers herself lucky that she had a friend who was able to drive her to Orillia.
Rape kits, or sexual assault evidence kits, are not available at all hospitals, requiring some survivors to drive to different cities to get them. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

"WIthout her, I don't know what I would have done," she said. "There's so many people who lack the support and the resources to make a journey like that."

But during the ordeal, Therien had to relive the assault multiple times.

She had to explain her story during registration, to a doctor in Barrie, another time in Orillia and once again to police.

"I had to tell the story a fourth time and that one, I felt like I was being grilled," she said. "There's a feeling I can't explain that goes along with being assaulted, not to mention it's sort of like you're still sitting in that uncomfortable feeling."

Only some hospitals choose to stock kits, ministry says

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says that all hospitals have access to rape kits, also known as sexual assault evidence kits, but some choose not to stock them and refer women to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centres (SADVTCs) instead.

There are 35 hospital-based SADVTCs across the province, including at least one within every Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

The hospitals Therien turned to in her crisis are a part of the the North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN.

The community relations specialist for Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital, Derek Desroches, told CBC Toronto that the kits are only among some of the many responsibilities shared between North Simcoe Muskoka hospitals. 
The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says all hospitals have access to rape kits but some choose not to stock them. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

"If [patients] choose to have a sexual assault evidence kit done they come to the Orillia hospital since it is a specially trained team who completes an assessment and connects them with supports and services closer to home," Desroches said in an emailed statement.

He added that Orillia is centrally located so patients from other regions covered by the LHIN all have about the same distance to travel to the hospital and that transportation can be provided for patients from other hospitals to get to Orillia. 

Getting kits also a challenge in Toronto

Getting a rape kit may also prove challenging for sexual assault survivors in Toronto.

Women's College Hospital provides sexual assault evidence kits to all local emergency departments, and when a patient reports a sexual assault, a nurse from Women's College travels to the emergency room to complete the kit. That may require a lengthy wait for the patient or even having the patient meet the nurse at another hospital.

The Toronto Rape Crisis Centre says most Ontario hospitals don't provide the sexual assault evidence kit, but notes Women's College Hospital is an exception. 
Deb Singh of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre says most hospitals in Ontario don't provide rape kits, but Women's College Hospital is an exception. (CBC)

"That's where we direct survivors because they really do have expertise on supporting survivors in such a sensitive moment when they're collecting evidence," Deb Singh of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre said.

Therien says she decided to go public with her story to highlight the fact that survivors may not be able to get a rape kit done at just any hospital and adds that the kits should be a crisis service available in all emergency sections of all hospitals.

She says that despite the difficulties she's faced so far, she is proud of the steps she has taken. 

"People of all genders are experiencing this all over Canada, and it shouldn't be regionally funded to certain hospitals," Therien said.

"It seems again I have to jump through different hoops I don't feel equipped to jump through, but I'm proud of my journey."

With files from Lisa Xing