More people who have been sexually assaulted in Alberta will have an opportunity to focus on healing and delay a decision about reporting the crime following the expansion of the Third Option Program in the Central and Edmonton zones of Alberta Health Services (AHS).
Through the program, offered by AHS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), forensic evidence is collected within seven days of the assault and then stored confidentially for one year, giving people who have been assaulted time to decide if they will report the crime to police.
The Third Option Program has been expanded this year to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, and to all rural hospitals within the Edmonton Zone.
“Third Option allows our patients time to focus on healing first, while preserving important forensic evidence, should they decide in the future that reporting the assault to police is right for them,” says Chrystal Ference, AHS public Health director in Edmonton Zone.
“Survivors of sexual assault need time to process, heal and choose the best path forward for them,” says Leela Aheer, minister of culture, multiculturalism and Status of Women.
“This requires support and a great deal of courage. It is our responsibility to empower survivors. This is part of our government’s commitment to ending gender-based and sexual violence in Alberta.”
Adds Julie Hansen, area manager of AHS’ Central Alberta Sexual Assault Response Team (CASART): “We know how important it is to be there for anyone who has been sexually assaulted and we’re grateful to the RCMP for their partnership in this.”
Prior to the program launching in several areas of the province, those individuals who were sexually assaulted had two options: have the evidence collected and call the RCMP/local police in the moment, or do not have the collection done.
Through this program, a person who has been sexually assaulted can decide whether to report the crime during a one-year period, if the decision is made to report, the RCMP or local police can assist with evidence intact.
“From a law enforcement perspective, allowing victims of sexual assault the compassionate option as to when they would like to make an official report within the first year works with our mandate to secure evidence for any potential investigations,” says Assistant Commissioner John Ferguson, Alberta RCMP Provincial Criminal Operations Officer.
Regardless of where you live in Alberta, AHS provides confidential and compassionate care at all of its hospitals to anyone seeking treatment following a sexual assault.
To ensure the best support and most appropriate care, patients who have been sexually assaulted will always be seen by an emergency department physician for medical assessment.
“The goal of Third Option is to ensure victims/patients are not alone,” says Patricia Arango, executive director of the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre (CASASC). “They have the best possible medical treatment and supports throughout the process and, through time, gain a sense of control. CASASC is thrilled to be part of this amazing service.
“For these individuals, trying to decide to report immediately after an assault has occurred often only enhances that distress. With Third Option reporting, they are able to take the time they may need and decide if reporting is the right choice for them. It can be very empowering for survivors to have that choice again.”
The Third Option Program is also available throughout the city of Edmonton and the AHS Calgary Zone, as well as in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.