Monday, 12 July 2010

"I felt total despair, anger, sadness, I am pro-choice, but having an abortion is not something I ever wanted to have to do."

The great municipal region of Ottawa-Gatineau, the nation's capital area, has a combined population of 1,054,253 people. Yet as local news organizations and even the National Post report, the administration of the Ottawa Hospital doesn't ensure that trained staff is available to provide critical health care and administer the sexual assault protocol to victims who are taken to Emergency. Until shameful stories made headlines, that is.

From here:

The Ottawa Hospital is the city's only provincially designated centre for sexual assault cases. The hospital's Civic campus houses the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program, with a mandate to provide care "24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," according to a 2006 protocol.

But hospital officials admit that they have not been meeting that standard in recent months, and that the problem has become "most acute" in the past three weeks. The hospital's roster of 15 specially trained sexual-assault nurse examiners has been reduced by almost half due to illness and unexpected leave.

A woman who asked the journalist who interviewed to call her 'Anita' when quoting her, said:

"It would have been good if they had it a couple of months ago, but I am glad it will be there for other women in the future."

Anita was attacked in the early morning of May 23. Police officers drove the 21-year-old university student to the Civic emergency room. [...]

After the nurse confirmed there were no sexual-assault nurses available, Anita says she was told to go home and that Richard Tomlinson, director of the Sexual Assault Support Program, would contact her in the morning.

"I knew that was not what should happen, and even the police officer looks at me and says, 'This is not how it should be done,' " Anita said.

Mr. Tomlinson and Anita communicated on Saturday morning, and she said she was offered the option of returning to the Civic for treatment at midnight on Sunday, almost 48 hours after the attack.

In the meantime, Anita would be unable to shower, in order to preserve evidence. The alternative, driving to Renfrew, was even less attractive, even though Mr. Tomlinson said the hospital would pay the taxi fare.

"At that point, I was pissed off, I was thinking 'This is ridiculous. Why the hell am I going to go all the way to Renfrew?' "

Anita decided she was done seeking treatment, even if it meant destroying evidence that might help police track down her attacker.

"I felt so gross, I felt like I was going to lose it if I couldn't shower," she said. "So I ended up taking a shower and giving up on the hospital."

She later told the police detective on her case about being turned away from the hospital.

"She told me I was the third case that weekend," said Anita, who is receiving counselling from a sexual-assault support worker.

A few weeks ago, Anita discovered she was pregnant.

"I felt total despair, anger, sadness," Anita said. "I am pro-choice, but having an abortion is not something I ever wanted to have to do."

It is common in the aftermath of sexual assaults to provide patients with the option of taking anti-virals to prevent sexually transmitted infections, and the morning-after pill, an emergency contraceptive that prevents pregnancy if used within three days of unprotected intercourse. Anita says no medical staff in the emergency room that night examined her, nor did they offer her medication.

More, much more here.

Rules regarding collection of evidence of sexual assault are strict.

Forensic Evidence Collection

A Sexual Assault Evidence Kit is used to collect medical evidence from the client's body and clothing to assist in legal proceedings. This evidence must be collected within 72 hours after the assault. [...] Photographs of the client's injuries can be taken and kept with the hospital chart should she/he wish to report to the police at a later date. If the police are involved at the time of the assault, they may take the photographs [...]

The defendant's lawyer, if unable to undermine the complainant's credibility, may challenge the integrity of the evidence collection process by calling the RN examiner to the witness stand.

Vicki McKenna, vice-president of the Ontario Nurses Association, said the Ottawa Hospital hasn't taken the issue seriously enough. She said many cities have dropped the on-call system in favour of permanent staffing. [...] McKenna said in addition to the low pay they receive on call, Ottawa's sexual assault nurses also sometimes have to fight to get paid for time they spend testifying in court.

Most RNs are women and the majority of sexual assault complainants are women. One wonders if that's the reason why the Ottawa Hospital doesn't consider the provision of this essential service a priority.

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