Not every Ontario hospital has rape evidence kits. A proposed law would change that

Every hospital in Ontario should have at least 10 sexual assault evidence kits and staff trained in how to deal with survivors, says a Liberal MPP’s private member’s bill based on a survey that found almost 40 per cent of health centers don’t have such kits.

The Access to Sexual Assault Evidence Kits and Provision of Sexual Assault Education Act, introduced by MPP Lucille Collard (Ottawa-Vanier), would also require sexual assault examiner training for all nursing students in order to graduate.

The bill, which passed first reading Tuesday, would require hospitals to have 10 or more sexual assault evidence kits — more colloquially known as “rape kits” — available “at all times and to provide them to patients who are in need of them, free of charge.”

Collard is not aware of any cases of sex assault survivors in Ontario being asked to pay, but there have been cases outside the province and she said she wants to avoid this happening here.

She said the issue around hospital access to evidence kits “is something that I find hard to believe, or very discouraging. A comprehensive study last year found that 39 per cent of hospitals in Ontario do not have sexual assault evidence kits available to victims. These kits provide really important evidence to trials in cases of sexual violence. Unfortunately, it seems that these kits are not always available.”

In some northern areas, phone help may be provided but sex assault survivors are often directed to treatment centers hours away, said Jacqueline Villeneuve-Ahmed, the founder and director of grassroots group She Matters, which started collecting data in 2019 and 2020 about the lack of evidence kits.

“We are a survivor-led organization … and we said we can’t stand for this to continue,” she said. She Matters surveyed hospitals across the country to find out if kits were available on site, and found that not only did most hospitals not have them, but that some chose not to collect evidence because of the two- to eight-hour time commitment to do SW.

“They’ll direct survivors to larger centers for that reason,” she said.

“We found some quite startling things,” she added, “especially in the more northern regions — areas where, in the winter months, it’s incredibly challenging to drive far distances.”

Villeneuve-Ahmed also noted how long some women wait once they arrive at a designated center. “We see survivors having to wait upwards of 10 or more hours, even here in Sudbury at a designated site,” she said.

“We have had survivors contact our organization who have been told to come back over 24 hours after reporting themselves to hospital to get a kit done. And when you have those barriers in place, either because of staff shortages or not enough people being trained, where survivors are told to come back they may just choose not to come back altogether.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services says that treatment centers for victims of sex assaults and domestic violence are staffed by trained nurses and doctors. “Recognizing that travel time can be a barrier in certain parts of the province, the ministry has provided funding and support toward the establishment of a new (centre) in Manitoulin District that opened in January 2021” and is one of 10 Aboriginal Health Access Centers funded throughout the province.

The statement said “we expect that all hospitals have access to sexual assault evidence kits. Some hospitals may choose not to stock kits and instead refer survivors to the nearest (treatment centers).”


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