LETHBRIDGE - It's an initiative eight months in the making: a centre in Lethbridge dedicated solely to help victims of sexual assault
Back in May 2018, the Alberta Government announced $8.1 million dollars to help the victims and survivors of sexual assault come forward. More than half a dozen regions were identified, including southwestern Alberta. $448,000 has been allocated for the next two years for operating costs in Lethbridge.
Centre CEO Kristine Cassie says the facility will offer a variety of services to its clients, including counselling (through Lethbridge Family Services), crisis support, victim advocacy with police, court system navigation and educational services.
"It's estimated 1 in 3 women and girls in their lifetime will experience some form of sexual violence, and 1 in 6 men or boys will as well experience some form of sexual violence either in childhood or in their adult life."
She says young adults are most at risk, but it can happen at any age, and it's a reality that's been going on for many, many years.
"We've had some forerunners in our community, such as Lethbridge Family Services...and with the YWCA with the Amethyst Program and the work they've done with domestic violence over the years. It's about having people be able to identify with once source, something that's called a sexual assault centre, so they know where to go."
And it will be open to anyone who needs sexual assault support.
"This is actually for all ages and however people identify. It really is for men and women, people who are part of the LGBTQ2 community, Indigenous populations, whoever that may be," explained Cassie. "Although we do see primary victims as typically being women, this is not just a women's issue. This is an issue that impacts all of society."
Cassie also emphasizes that no one will be "made to" or required to report a sexual assault if they aren't comfortable doing so, or if they don't want to.
"What we do know is that people need to regain control of themselves, of how they want to proceed with their life. If they choose not to report, we support that decision. If they choose not to... obviously, we encourage people to go to medical services, but there are some that will also choose not to. It's about them regaining control of their life and how they want to be treated. And that's where we work from."
That includes validating the victim's experiences and believing what they've been through and helping them find a way to cope so they can move forward with their lives.
For those who are considering coming forward, Cassie says it doesn't matter whether the sexual assault occurred recently, or decades ago; whether it's a friend or family member or someone unknown to the victim.
"We would say 'welcome' and 'come on in. We believe.' And let's look at what happened to you. If you feel safe to share, let's look at that."
The centre is located at 502-740 4 Ave. S. in Lethbridge. The centre will be open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. They can also be available in the evenings, if appointments are made in advance.
The telephone number 403-694-1094 or toll free 1-844-576-2512.
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