The RCMP and the Native Women’s Society of the NWT are in talks to provide immediate support to sexual assault victims.

Native Women’s Society victim service worker Marie Speakman says there has long been a need for this, so she has been meeting with RCMP Insp. Matt Pegg Since early 2017 to begin planning.

What Speakman would like to see is a private space, away from the hospital, where women can go to a nurse practitioner get a sexual assault kit done.

Temporary victim service worker Michele Larocque, left, and victim service worker Marie Speakman, stand in front of the Beaded Heart Project, an art exhibit dedicated to indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered, on May 19. Emelie Peacock/NNSL Photo

The space would include a bed as well as a shower to use once the examination is finished.

With no sexual assault support centre in Yellowknife, victims are treated at Stanton Territorial Hospital. They are accompanied by the RCMP to the emergency department at the hospital, where they wait to be examined and, if they consent, have a nurse take evidence using a sexual assault kit.

Speakman often sits with victims in the emergency ward at the hospital, offering emotional support and resources such as clean clothing, food, taxi vouchers and a cellphone if needed.

“It’s really kind of a degrading process,” she said, adding she’s heard of a few instances where women have left the emergency room before being treated. “All areas of your wellness is affected, right? Dignity, a lot of shame goes with it. Going through that process, it’s like being re-victimized.”

Other services Speakman would like to see include victim support, spiritual support, personal-hygiene products and a change of clothing.

In an e-mail to Yellowknifer, NWT health authority spokesperson David Maguire said private rooms at the emergency department are used for patients who require them, if the rooms are available at the time. Staff at the emergency department also have the option to use a private room on the second floor of the hospital to examine patients in a quiet and private environment. A separate room is available for patients who need to meet with family or others supporting them.

Lyda Fuller, executive director of YWCA Yellowknife, sees assault survivors at family violence shelter Alison McAteer house. She said the current approach to treating survivors in Yellowknife is piecemeal and doesn’t provide adequate privacy.

“There’s nothing private about the emergency room,” she said. “So I think there needs to be something that is more private and protected.”

Fuller said she believes some women choose not to report sexual assault to the RCMP because of the lack of dedicated support and co-ordination of services in Yellowknife.

While she had not heard of Native Women’s Association’s work with the RCMP, Fuller agreed a dedicated space is sorely needed.

In 2015, there were 197 police reported incidents of sexual assault across the NWT, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Of these reported incidents, 90 adults were charged with sexual assault in the territory, 18 of these in Yellowknife.

Statistics Canada notes the numbers are likely much higher, as most sexual assaults go unreported.

Women and girls as well as men and boys are victims of sexual assault, yet women in particular face very high rates of violence and sexual assault in the NWT compared to other provinces. A 2013 Statistics Canada report on violence against women found women in the NWT have a nine times greater risk of falling victim to sexual offenses compared to the provincial average.

The Native Women’s Association’s project is in its infancy but Speakman said the RCMP has shown a will to collaborate. Spokesperson Marie York-Condon confirmed the RCMP works with partner agencies such as Native Women’s but did not provide details about the talks to open an assault survivor space.