Editor’s note: This is the third in a multiple-part series looking at sexual assault in Alberta in general, and the East Central region of Alberta more specifically.
The survivors of sexual assault are at increased risk of depression, suicide, food insecurity, homelessness and addiction according to the Stettler Association of Communities Against Abuse (ACAA).
However, according to Stephanie Hadley, the executive director of ACAA, survivors don’t have to deal with trauma recovery alone.
ACAA is one of 15 sexual assault service centres covering 38 communities in the province and provides a number of “core services” in the community in order to retain its membership with the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (ASAS).
According to Hadley, one of ACAA’s key roles is walking with trauma survivors, helping them reach a point of pre-treatment stability, and then helping them maintain that stability as they go through therapy to process what has occurred.
Hadley notes that sometimes the pre-treatment stabilization “may be enough” to help trauma survivors.
“Some may not even enter therapy,” said Hadley.
Pre-therapy stabilization, while different for every individual affected by sexual assault, could include helping navigate the criminal justice and mental health systems or helping with food security or lodgings.
Something that Hadley emphasized in a recent interview is that sexual assault survivors are not required to report to the police to participate in ACAA programming; while providing “police and court support” is available, when the time is right, the primary goal is stabilization.
The first step in that stabilization process is reaching out; ACAA can be reached toll-free at 1-866-807-3558. There is also a provincial one-call line, available at 1-866-403-8000.
New clients will go through an intake assessment with an ACAA staff member where they will be informed of all services that can be made available through each of the individual centres.
Based on risk and other safety concerns, the new client is triaged and those with more urgent situations are “fast-tracked” into supportive care and are offered other wrap-around supports focused on addressing day-to-day needs.
A four-week support group is also made available to begin initial stabilization while the client waits for one-on-one therapy.
“They don’t just call and wait,” said Hadley.
Since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic wait times have been high, according to Hadley. Depending on acuity, some could be waiting for placement for six to eight months. However, even during that time, ACAA offers some support even if it is just a monthly phone call to check in, a gift card to help with groceries or other means of support.
If and when a client is ready, staff are able to sit with the client and help look at their options as far as reporting to the police goes.
Thanks to a “great relationship” ACAA has with the RCMP, if a client does choose to file a police complaint ACAA staff can arrange for the interview to be done at their offices or other neutral ground not at the police detachment.
ACAA’s role isn’t just treatment and support though.
As part of the “core services” each of the ASAS centres provide, ACAA also provides education opportunities both in schools and for the public, and outreach services to remove barriers to access, and volunteer engagement.
The education component can vary, ranging from in-school presentations, lunch webinars, or other public presentations.
As for community outreach, regional centres such as ACAA further partner with more localized groups such as rural family and community support services (FCSS) to provide virtual service delivery for those in need.
Hadley says that more recently a focus has been on “building relationships” in the more remote regions which are encompassed as part of ACAA’s operational area.
ACAA operates in an area from Highway 21 east to the Saskatchewan border, between Highway 14 to the north and Highway 9 in the south. The full region is approximately 50 communities and a population of 109,000 people.
According to Hadley, ACAA serves around 2,000 people per year, however, statistics released by ASAS earlier in 2023 show that numbers are drastically underreported and the number of people affected by sexual assault in ACAA’s region alone could be around 47,000.
See parts one and two of this series for a look back at estimated sexual assault numbers and sources of funding for ASAS centres.