A Canadian study revealed that 41% of 700 hospitals investigated across the country do not have sexual assault evidence kits available.
She Matters, an advocacy group made up of women-identifying survivors and allies, led a year-long study that looked at the availability of sexual assault evidence kits in hospitals around the country.
Sexual assault evidence kits are medical kits used during the collection of evidence following a sexual assault. In addition to recording first-hand accounts, they are used to analyze the body and clothing of a survivor.
Jacqueline Villeneuve-Ahmed, the founder and executive director of the organization, spoke with Narcity and shared that important resources were missing for vulnerable Canadians.
What were the national findings across Canada?
The 12-month study gathered data from 700 health centres in Canada and found that many of them did not carry sexual assault evidence kits, depended on the RMCP to bring them, or refused to say whether their facility carried them or not.
According to the study, many hospitals expressed frustration that they were among the only centres that had the available resources. Moreover, the study said these hospitals wanted to see other facilities "conduct kits to lessen the stress on certain facilities and to better support survivors."
"We feel strongly that a person's geographical location should not determine whether or not they can access justice," Villeneuve-Ahmed told Narcity.
The province of Newfoundland was shown to have the highest rates of kit unavailability at 53%, while Yukon had the lowest at 29%, according to the report.
Why did your organization carry out this study?
Villeneuve-Ahmed explained that her team carried out this research because the Government of Canada did not have similar data available.
"We felt it was our responsibility to compile this data and complete the silenced report to not only advocate for equal access to justice for survivors but to make the Canadian public aware of this very pressing issue," she said.
Villeneuve-Ahmed said that few sexual assault cases are reported to the police, even though one in three Canadian women find themselves affected by sexual violence.
She says that survivors first try to seek out medical help but are later met with little resources.
How can the Government of Canada help?
Villeneuve-Ahmed said that her organization wants the federal government to acknowledge that there is a sexual assault evidence kit accessibility crisis in the country.
She added that a way to help would be by having federal mandates ensure resources are available at every hospital in Canada.
A Canada-wide petition calls for similar measures, demanding that resources be available in all hospitals. The petition has garnered over a quarter of a million signatures to date.
Villeneuve-Ahmed said the federal government should look closely at resources available for First Nations and Indigenous communities for survivors on reserves and northern and rural communities.
She explained that Indigenous women are among the highest-affected populations by sexual assault in the country and have the highest rates of inaccessibility to sexual assault evidence kits.
These women are also recognized by Canada as being among the most disadvantaged groups vulnerable to abuse.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, call the Assaulted Women's Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 or find them online here. You can also contact the Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Assault at 1-866-887-0015 or online here. For a list of resources by province, go here.