Service Providers Concerned Duty to Report Changes Will Deter Youth from Disclosing Sexual Assault
The NS Sexual Assault Services Network (SASN) and partners met with Child Protection officials last week to discuss concerns with a proposed change to child protection legislation, which will extend the definition of “child” from 16 to (under) 19. Service providers are particularly concerned about the impacts of increasing the age for mandatory reporting of sexual violence to under 19.
While the amendments will ensure that vulnerable youth can access important services, changes surrounding duty to report would deter youth in that age range who have experienced sexual violence from accessing support and medical care. A recent Sexual Violence Strategy consultation with youth found that confidentiality is key to their decision to disclose the assault and seek support. “Scores of clients in my practice have waited until they are 16 to report sexual violence specifically so they will be guaranteed confidentiality,” says Robert Wright, a Nova Scotia therapist and educator who works extensively with victims of sexual violence.
Reluctance to report sexual violence can result in a delay in accessing time-sensitive medical care, such as Plan B (emergency contraception), STI treatment, and HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) medical exams and forensic evidance collection must also be done within five days of the assault. Those present expressed concern regarding the impact that changing the duty to report will have on a population already in need of mental health support and at increased risk of suicide. Representatives also noted that being forced to report sexual assault under the age of 19 will take control away from the person who experienced the assault and could be re-victimizing.
As many university and college students fall into the 17 to (under) 19-year-old age range, representatives from university health and counseling services and students’ unions were also present at the meeting. The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) will launch the Sexual Violence Phone Line, currently a month-long pilot, this coming orientation week. “If we can’t guarantee confidentiality, many first and second year students simply won’t feel comfortable disclosing their assault to phone line volunteers,” says Kaitlynne Lowe, DSU Vice President (Internal). “This change has the potential to undermine the effectiveness of this important service in the long run.” The phone line will be the only of its kind in Nova Scotia.
St. FX Student Union President, Hanna Stordy emphasized that “university students under the age of 19 are not children. The proposed amendment strips this age group of their autonomy and silences survivors by taking away their ability to access confidential supports and services. This completely undermines the positive reporting culture that we are trying to foster which hinges on trust and choice.”
Service providers in community-based, university and college counselling and health services have worked hard to create space where youth feel comfortable seeking help and disclosing sexual assault. “This proposed legislative change will set us back in terms of sexual assault reporting and our ability to provide support. It will stigmatize counselling and compromise the integrity of many of our essential services”, says Jackie Stevens, Executive Director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.
Though this legislation aims to address assault of a child in the home or by an authority figure, it also greatly impacts those under 19 who have experienced peer-to-peer assault, a prevalent form of sexual violence amongst this age group. In British Columbia, “reports of sexual assault against minors are not expected unless the sexual violence is of a continuous nature and/or the perpetrator is a family member” (Ending Violence Association of BC, “Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence Policies” Fact Sheet.).
Service providers are confident that these concerns will be taken into consideration and the government will adopt a resolution that has true benefits for all youth in this province.
Jackie Stevens, Executive Director, Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, 902-422-4249, firstname.lastname@example.org Robert Wright, MSW, RSW, Therapist & Educator, 902 491-4286, email@example.com
Kaitlynne Lowe, Dalhousie Student Union Vice-President (internal), (905) 925-8098, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Stordy, Vice President, St.FX Students’ Union, 902 867-2411, email@example.com
For immediate release. August 6, 2015