As part of the Faculty of Medicine’s Doctor, Patient, & Society (DPAS) course, second-year Southern Medical Program (SMP) students Kibby Milsom, Jasmine Gurm, and Robin Whitty have been working with the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) to help enhance the team’s profile within the local medical community. Here’s our Q & A with SMP students:
Q: What is the background for your DPAS project?
A: SART is a group of specially-trained family physicians who provide support for survivors of sexual assault. Based at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH), they have provided medical and emotional support to hundreds of women and men for more than 20 years. While the team is funded to be on call, any additional promotion or training is essentially done off the side of their desks.
If someone has been sexually assaulted and seeks medical care within seven days, they can access a SART physician by request through the KGH Emergency Department. A friend or family member is welcome to accompany the person to offer support. Staff from the Elizabeth Fry Society are also available. The SART physician will examine and treat injuries, prescribe any necessary medications, and provide emotional support and resources. They are also able to collect samples for a police investigation; however, the decision to report to the police rests solely with the patient. All services are provided free of charge.
Q: What has been the focus of your work?
A: Our DPAS group came together to try to fill some of the gaps. Despite the amazing work done by the team, they had absolutely no online presence and many physicians and community organizations were unaware their services exists.
To help gain a better understanding, each of us takes a week each month to be on call with a SART physician. When a call comes in, we are at the hospital with the physician assisting with evidence collection and report writing. We are also there to provide emotional support to the patient and connect them with other resources in the community. The hands-on experience has really helped us to focus on where information resources are most valuable. For instance, since vulnerable women such as those who are unstably housed or sex workers are more likely to be the victims of sexual assault, we wanted to ensure that organizations who work with those populations were aware of SART.
We also realized that the lasting impacts of sexual assaults on survivors’ health is a topic that is often overlooked in the medical curriculum. We hoped to fill that gap by raising awareness amongst SMP students.
Q: How have you help raised awareness?
A: To date, we have worked with more than 10 different service organizations to raise awareness within the community. For instance, when we first contacted HOPE (Helping Out People Exploited), an organization that supports sex workers in Kelowna, our goal was to see if they would post SART information on their website. They were so passionate about collaborating that beyond posting a blurb online, they incorporated the information we provided into their training for new volunteers and invited us to come to their events. At one of their monthly pizza nights, we went to raise awareness and were able to identify some of their barriers in accessing care and report back to the SART team.
To reach our classmates, we took a different tactic. In the first month of each term, we made a brief presentation about the SART team and our DPAS project. We also hosted a documentary screening of ‘The Hunting Ground’ in early March and invited community groups and SART physicians. Not only were we able to put SART on people’s radar, but we also helped identify ourselves as point-of-contacts for those seeking more information about sexual assault services. The side conversations and informal dialogues are difficult to quantify, but we certainly have raised the profile of sexual assault with our classmates. Moreover, the first year class is organizing a tour of the sexual assault service in Kelowna and meeting with the Elizabeth Fry Society to gain a better understanding on how to support survivors.
Q: What are your next steps?
A: We are hoping to leave a bit of a legacy with the project. We are currently working to establish an annual donation of underwear from various clothing stores in Kelowna. For victims of sexual assault, giving up their underwear as part of forensic evidence collection can be a degrading experience. Our hope is by having a selection of underwear on hand, we can potentially help reduce the shame and offer a small step towards their healing.
We presented an abstract and poster presentation for the UBC Okanagan Interdisciplinary Health Conference which enabled the issue of sexual assault and the SART services to reach a broader, interdisciplinary audience. As part of that poster, we created an infographic which highlights how to access sexual assault services to be used as a standalone poster for bars, restaurants and around campuses. Look for it to start showing up in bathroom stalls and physician offices in the near future.