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ASSAULTS: Victim assistance now 24/7

A mobile crisis service called SMART (Surrey Mobile Assault Response Team) was launched this week by the Surrey Women
A mobile crisis service called SMART (Surrey Mobile Assault Response Team) was launched this week by the Surrey Women's Centre in partnership with Surrey Memorial Hospital for women and girls who are victims of physical or sexual assault.
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

It’s the first time Meghan’s parents have ever left her alone for a weekend.

Bored, the 16-year-old posts a note on Facebook saying “ ‘rents are away. Anyone want to watch a movie?”

A small group comes to her house, including a friend’s new boyfriend. Meghan hasn’t met James before. He’s 19 and quiet and seems like a nice guy.

He offers to drive to the store to get some junk food for the movie night and invites Meghan along because he doesn’t know the neighbourhood well. James is much more chatty in the car and Meghan feels comfortable. He even invites her to a concert with him and her friend the following weekend.

When they reach their destination, James parks in the lot behind the store. But instead of getting out of the car right away, he locks the doors and suggests they talk for awhile.

Before Meghan knows what’s happening, James is on top of her. He covers her mouth, pressing her head hard against the headrest so she can’t move or scream.

James sexually assaults Meghan. Cars are coming and going from the parking lot, but it’s dark and no one can see what’s going on.

When it’s all over, James hops out of the car and goes into the store, leaving Meghan in the car. She has no phone and doesn’t know what to do. Should she run? Before she can decide, James returns.

He acts like nothing has happened and chats again about the concert.

Back at the house, the two walk toward the front door and James grabs Meghan from behind.

“I know that’s why you came along,” he whispers.

“Don’t worry, it will be our secret.”

When her house guests leave hours later, Meghan is alone and afraid. She doesn’t know what to do or who to tell. Her parents will probably never trust her on her own again.

The teen makes her way to Surrey Memorial Hospital. It’s 3 a.m. and the waiting room is full.

A triage nurse asks Meghan why she’s there but when she tries to answer, there are only tears.

“Has someone hurt you?” asks the nurse.

Meghan can only nod.

“Do you need to see a sexual assault nurse?”

Meghan nods again.

***

It’s now that Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) gets in touch with the Surrey Women’s Centre’s Surrey Mobile Assault Response Team (SMART).

The new 24-hour service hotline, launched this week, ensures victims have support after physical or sexual violence. Once in a safe place, specially trained workers help women explore their options, explaining the medical, legal and social services available, and help them come up with a safety plan.

The mobile crisis service was created by the women’s centre in partnership with SMH.

It is funded by the Department of Justice Canada, St. Mary’s Health Foundation of New Westminster, the Newman Foundation, Royal LePage Coronation Park, and the Al Roadburg and Lohn Foundation.

Sonya Boyce, executive director of Surrey Women’s Centre, calls SMART a critical resource.

“If we know that a woman or girl is assaulted every 60 seconds, then help must be available every minute of the day,” Boyce says.

Studies show that women who are assaulted are less likely to contact police or seek medical treatment than victims of other crimes. Too often, they rely on family and friends and don’t get the emotional support and practical help they need.

SMART workers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year – by phone or in person.

“Assaults don’t stop at 5 p.m. so assistance should be available all the time,” said Corrine Arthur, SMART coordinator, noting victims can simply talk, if that’s all that’s requested. Or, a worker can accompany a woman to hospital immediately after an assault if they need medical treatment or to collect forensic evidence.

“After an assault, it is critical that women and girls receive immediate medical attention due to the possibility of injury, pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections,” says Lynn Gifford, forensic nursing services coordinator at SMH, adding sometimes women have life-threatening injuries they are unaware of.

“Our nursing team is specially trained to assess and treat injuries sustained during an assault. Accessing medical care after an assault – any assault – is critical and the collection of forensic evidence has proved crucial in the prosecution of sexual offences.”

***

A SMART worker named Donna meets with Meghan and assures her she’ll help her through all her difficult decisions, including when and how to tell her parents what has happened. She’ll also be by her side during her lengthy medical examination.

Meghan says she’s unsure whether she wants to go to the police, so Donna explains she has time to decide as her evidence can be stored for up to a year. The teen then arranges to call an aunt, who picks her up. Donna again assures Meghan she’ll be contacted by a SMART worker the following day and that they’ll be there for her in the weeks to follow.

“You’ve been through enough tonight. Rest and we’ll work out the next steps together.”

***

For more information about the Surrey Mobile Assault Response Team visit www.smartalk.ca

For assistance 24-hours a day, call 604-583-1295.

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