Establishing an effective sexual assault service in rural Manitoba : lessons from the past, ideas for the future

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La Rosa, Nadia G.
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Sexual violence is a serious global issue primarily affecting women and children from all social, religious, economic and cultural backgrounds. In addition to the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual impact on victims, there are devastating consequences for those surrounding the victim including children, partners, extended family, friends, and the community as a whole. Being a "victim" of sexual assault carries fierce shame, and social stigma, which further discourages survivors from seeking help and support. Consequently, they continue to live with the trauma in fear and in isolation. This study conducted interviews with key stakeholders in rural and urban communities in the province of Manitoba. The experiences of representatives from First Nation communities and from the medical, legal and social services systems were examined to garner their perceptions of what constitutes an effective and immediate response the devastating social issue of sexual assault. Participants described the existing policies, procedures, and services for sexual assault survivors in rural Manitoba, and shared their perceptions of the limitations of these services. Respondents also provided information on the planning and implementation of service delivery and shared recommendations for future development based on their personal and professional experiences organizing within their own communities. Implications for developing an effective community response to sexual assault includes: building community capacity through empowerment, community organizing, education and training. Grass roots consciousness raising, respectful communication, including a diverse community membership in various aspects of the planning, and consultation and collaboration were identified as essential steps in order to break the silence and provide hope and healing to individuals, families, and communities.