On Tuesday, the Alberta Government announced a $1 million investment into providing forensic evidence kits and training to rural hospitals. This funding addresses a big area of need, as rural communities like Strathmore and throughout Wheatland County did not have easy access to this important service.

Erin Brassard, founder of S.T.A.N.D Against Sexual Assault, explains that the only nearby hospital that provided this service was the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre in Calgary, so access was already difficult for victims in Strathmore.

"When something like that has happened to you, and you make a decision to go to a hospital, to have to drive an extra hour or two hours to go to a specific hospital is asking too much for someone who's gone through something like that. We as a sexual assault organization in Strathmore have been wanting to get a SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) team placed in Strathmore for a very long time, so if that actually happens, it would make me extremely happy." 

Brassard hopes the simpler access to forensic evidence kits, AKA rape kits, in Strathmore will encourage more victims to report these crimes, which in turn could lead to more convictions and fewer crimes.

"Just knowing that that option (rape kits) is here, and that it's more likely someone is going to do that now compared to before when they had to go all the way to Calgary. That could be huge in deterring people from committing this crime in Strathmore."

These rape kits are used by medical professionals to obtain as much DNA as possible from the assaulter, which Brassard said is an important service as it can increase convictions and decrease crime. However, while DNA samples can prove sexual intercourse, Brassard noted it isn't able to prove lack of consent, as that is left to the justice system.

One important aspect of these kits is how long the DNA can be stored. Brassard explained it can be preserved up to a year, which is important to note for victims who may not be prepared to go through the legal system right away after experiencing a traumatic situation.

"Some individuals who've experienced sexual violence are really scared to go get a rape kit, thinking 'then I have to go to court. I have to go to the police,' and you don't have to. You have time to make that decision at a later period."

As for S.T.A.N.D themselves, Brassard said they will continue to support sexual assault survivors, and encourage anyone to reach out. Along with emotional support and potentially accompanying victims to the hospital, S.T.A.N.D also offers several programs, like art therapy, self-defense courses, yoga, and more.

Training for these forensic exams will begin on November 1 at this link, which is exclusive to healthcare professionals in rural communities. 

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