The Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres is made up of 35 hospital-based centres that provide 24/7 emergency care to women, children and men who have been sexually assaulted or who are victims or survivors of domestic violence (intimate partner) abuse. Services include: emergency medical and nursing care, crisis intervention, collection of forensic evidence, medical follow-up and counselling and referral to community resources.
Recognizing that the effects of sexual and domestic violence are complex and cannot be met by any one agency, the centres also work with community agencies to provide a continuum of care for survivors.
In the mid-to-late-1970s, health professionals, community-based women’s organizations and grassroots organizations expressed concerns that the needs of sexual assault victims were not being met in Ontario’s emergency rooms. At the time, victims of sexual assault who sought care in hospital emergency rooms faced long waits and were treated by nurses and physicians who were inadequately trained to meet the unique needs of the victim. In response to these concerns, in 1984 the Ministry of Health opened the first hospital-based sexual assault centre at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.
The Ministry has since opened an additional 34 hospital-based centres across Ontario that serve populations or geographic regions ranging from 11,000 to 2.5 million people.
The mandate of our centres continues to expand.
In 1997, a public inquest recommended the strengthening of the response of the health care system to domestic violence. A collaborative Network project was therefore carried out with eight centres to evaluate the effectiveness of expanding the mandate of our centres to include victims of domestic violence. The results showed that providing specialized services to this population would, indeed, be beneficial. Subsequently, all centres were funded to provide care to victims of domestic violence.
In 2003, under the Early Years Child Initiatives Fund, the centres again expanded their services to include providing specialized care for victims of child sexual assault and their (non-offending) family members. Two main goals of the initiative were to enhance services at a local level and increase the expertise of pediatric clinicians.
To further these goals, the sexual assault/domestic violence teams of nurses, pediatricians and counsellors were provided with specialized pediatric training on medical–legal issues as well as counselling and interventions. The medical and counselling staff receive ongoing training to maintain their skills and competency.
The expertise available in the hospital settings where the centres are located allow us to meet both the medical needs of the victim and their legal needs through the collection of forensic evidence.
Many victims and survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence have immediate medical, emotional and safety issues. Nurses and physicians at the centres are educated to address victims’ medical needs, such as the treatment of injuries and concerns about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. They also provide crisis intervention. Clinicians at the centres are also skilled in the forensic aspects of care.
Part of the role of the centre staff is to address safety concerns, for example, planning with the victim on how to remain safe following their visit to the hospital. In addition, when a victim is at risk of violence, immediate referrals to shelters can be made.
Sexual and domestic assault are violent crimes that are rooted in power and control. By providing victims and survivors with unconditional support and by holding the assailant/abuser responsible for the violent behaviour, we empower clients in recognizing their own self-worth. In sexual assault and domestic-violence situations, personal control and self-determination are taken away, so it is critical that clients reclaim their autonomy by making decisions about their own care. Only then can they begin the process of healing.
The mandate of the sexual assault/domestic violence treatment centres is to address the medical, emotional, social, forensic and legal needs of women, men and children who have been recently sexually assaulted or who are the victims or survivors of domestic abuse in a prompt, professional and compassionate manner.
While serving our clients remains the primary focus, our members also use every opportunity to educate the public on sexual assault and domestic violence.
We offer training to other professionals (e.g., police, Crown attorneys), make presentations to student and community groups (e.g., high schools, universities, crisis intervention centres) and undertake public-awareness campaigns. Much of our work focuses on strategies to reduce the risk of and ultimately eliminate sexual assault and domestic violence. This is done in collaboration with other agencies that provide services to victims/survivors (e.g., rape crisis centres, family counselling centres). Contact your local treatment centre if you would like someone to make a presentation to your group.
The centres have advisory committees composed of individuals, agencies and organizations that also serve sexually and physically assaulted persons within their communities. The advisory committees offer guidance and ensure accountability to their specific region.