The Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program (SAPACP) that works out of the Civic Campus Emergency Department at the Ottawa Hospital represents an intersection between emergency medicine, forensics and the justice system. Our patients present to us in the earliest moments post assault and we provide for them care for their acute physical injuries, including collecting evidence if they choose to press criminal charges, as well as providing them the support and resources to recover from the psychological impacts of assault. We have a psychiatrist and a social worker in-house who can help patients mitigate the impact of this trauma and address how an event of this nature touches on every aspect of their life.
This month, as we consider the black community’s achievements and ongoing injustices, it’s important for us to recognize that women of colour under-report domestic abuse despite being disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence. Studies show that when women of colour do report violence, their experiences are often taken less seriously and “the harm suffered by racialized women as victims of sexual assault is perceived to be less serious by the white mainstream.”
As an RN in the SAPACP, I get to focus on the individual in front of me, and advocate for their care within our department, keeping systemic inequities in mind in order to compensate for them as much as is within my power. Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard is an African Nova Scotian social worker who has utilized her experience to advocate for women of colour and individuals experiencing gender-based violence on a systems-level.
Serving currently in the Senate, Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard is helping address the needs of Canadians of African descent as a founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers and has worked to address inequities in healthcare on the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.It is critical that anti-racism work needs to be active at every level of power: from the interactions we have with the Black patients who present to our ED, to the Federal advocacy work Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard is doing every day.
At the beginning of the pandemic, our usually busy program dropped in numbers, an experience many centres across the province felt as the country was ordered to “stay home and stay safe.” We all held our breath knowing that home isn’t always a safe place for our clients and the decreased volume of patients in-hospital paradoxically meant a certain increase in incidence of domestic violence in the community. Now that we are in the phases of reopening and hospital volumes are returning to capacity our program has been as busy as ever.
Many access our program by self- referral or through the police; walking in asking for the “SAC [Sexual Assault Care] Nurse” or for a “rape kit” for forensic evidence. But a good portion of our population are referred to us from within our department or hospital. Patients present to the hospital for a broken bone, head injury, treatment for an sexually transmitted infection or to deliver a baby and are referred to us when the RN/MD/SW feels concerned that this person’s complaints or injuries might be due to intimate partner violence or sexual assault. We must remain sensitive to the black women accessing our ED and look for the subtle signs of abuse, offering our aid whenever possible, advocating for the equitable treatment of these patients, knowing that they represent an increasingly vulnerable population.
Senator Bernard says it best:
“Some people wait for things to happen but I say we must all be willing to lead the change you want to see in your world.”
At the end of the articles we’re including a couple reflections from our own staff on what Black History Month has meant to them with the hopes of normalizing a diversity of experiences while encouraging you to reflect honestly and non-judgmentally on your own memories knowing every year is another opportunity to learn and grow a little more.
“My son is in Junior Kindergarten and is learning about Black History month in school. We’ve talked about Rosa Parks and Viola Desmond. I am trying to read more and learn more so that I can answer his questions and raise a child who believes in equity and inclusion.” – Ayesha
“I have been learning more this month about the ways in which “Big F” or white feminist movements were damaging towards Womanism movements that were initiated by Black women. I think that we all need to practice intersectional feminism and continually address the historical ways in which feminist movements have oppressed and excluded Black women.” – Laura
Asha thank you for bringing this topic to the mainstream public. Sexual assault is a far too frequent and under reported problem in our society . It needs to be highlighted that women of colour are definitely more likely to be abused. The pandemic has affected many people in our society who are isolated even more now. Keep up the good work.