The problem: Just as sexual assaults in Canada is on the decline, Saint John’s numbers rose sharply in 2007—from 59 per cent above the national average in 2006—to 131 per cent over the national average (that’s 150 reported incidents for every 100,000 people). The problem is not a provincial one. Oromocto (93 km away) for instance, was ranked as one of the safest cities in Canada with a crime score that’s 82 per cent below the national average.
What’s being done to deal with it: Haidee Goldie is the coordinator for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program, which began in 2006. SANE responds to victims immediately after they’ve presented themselves, providing medical care including exams, pregnancy and STI testing and the collection of evidence for police use from an all-female staff. “Prior to our program, if they came to emergency and didn’t have any physical injuries they would sit and wait for six or seven hours before they were seen by a physician,” says Goldie, adding the volunteer nurses are on call around the clock. She says she’s “definitely” seen an increased number of cases. “And if we had numbers for the first two months of this year—it’s gone through the roof,” she says. “Unfortunately this year we’ve had a huge increase in our pediatric numbers which is quite distressing.” SANE also works with the Family Services Unit of the Saint John Police Force. Thanks to $65,000 in provincial funding, the group is currently putting together a sexual assault response team, which they hope to have ready by August, that will consist of health care and social workers, advocates with connections to shelters and other services and police.