Comprehensive plan to battle sexual violence a first for Alberta
When Dara Sutton read the new Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) Sexual Violence Action Plan, she couldn’t help but think about how her own experience with sexual assault could have been much different.
“Change is the only guarantee in life, so let’s make it count,” said Sutton, a sexual assault survivor, AASAS board member and executive director of the Boundary Women's Coalition in British Columbia, speaking at the release of the AASAS Sexual Violence Action Plan at the Chateau Lacombe in Edmonton on Thursday.
The action plan, created by front-line sexual assault service providers as a framework for developing strategies and policies preventing and addressing instances of sexual violence, is being hailed as a first of its kind for Alberta.
“Our vision is an Alberta free from sexual abuse and sexual assault,” said Debra Tomlinson, CEO of AASAS. “We’ve designed this plan to act as a blueprint for health, justice, community and social services, education and advanced education policy-makers and movers to help them address the problem of sexual violence.”
The action plan calls on a collaborative, cross-ministry approach to address the complex social issues at the root of sexual violence, focusing on four strategic priorities including the need for strong leadership and accountability, effective prevention strategies, effective outreach strategies and enhanced intervention.
“This makes Alberta a national leader for the first time in a long time on this issue,” said Stephanie McLean, the minister of Service Alberta and status of women.
For sexual assault survivors like Sutton, change can’t come soon enough.
If there had been a comprehensive education strategy as recommended in the report to educate all Albertans on sexual violence before she was assaulted, “maybe he wouldn’t have felt entitled to take power by assaulting me,” Sutton said.
Had the report’s recommendations on enhanced intervention with survivors of sexual violence already been in place — including support through the legal process and access to specialized counselling for the survivor and their family — Sutton said, “my children may have been less afraid, less stressed, less worried, less angry and more supported.”
Had the judge in her case received further education in sexual violence — as is now available through $25,000 in grants offered by the provincial government — “perhaps defence counsel would not have been permitted to shame me for not remembering which of the perpetrators hands, left or right, were used in each aspect of the assault,” Sutton said.
“Maybe, if offender services had been available, he could be working towards a better way of being,” Sutton continued. “Instead? He walks in the same beliefs and attitudes that helped him harm another person.”
Tomlinson commended the Alberta government on initiatives aimed at empowering victims of sexual violence to report their assault.
“As more and more survivors come forward to seek help, we need to make sure that we have enough specialized services in this province to meet this growing demand,” Tomlinson said.
Sutton said the issue of sexual violence, affecting nearly 25 out of every 1,000 Albertans every year, and its repercussions — with sexual violence linked to issues addictions, mental health issues, suicide, homelessness and domestic violence — is simply too large to ignore.
“We have an urgent public health crisis on our hands that if we don’t respond to, we’re going to be in a worse place then we were before,” said Tomlinson, hopeful the report’s recommendations will inspire further action to eliminate sexual violence.