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New local supports for sexual violence survivors

BOW VALLEY – A safe place with services for sexual violence survivors has officially launched in the Bow Valley.
Sexual Violence Prevention Funding
Minister of Community and Social Services Irfan Sabir and Banff-Cochrane MLA Cam Westhead announce $180,000 in new annual funding to the Banff YWCA for the Harmony Project in Banff in May. The Government of Alberta previously provided $304,798 for the Harmony Project, allowing for the creation of the Bow Valley initiative to stop sexual violence in all communities stretching from Lake Louise to Morley.

BOW VALLEY – A safe place with services for sexual violence survivors has officially launched in the Bow Valley.

This January, the YWCA Banff partnered with the Harmony Project to help sexual violence survivors and those who assist them through emotional support and assistance with legal, medical and therapeutic services.

“It’s been a long time conversation in the Bow Valley amongst the service providers and there has been attempts in the past to try to coordinate a community response, to try bringing together these conversations and this time there has been a lot of traction,” said Larissa Dillabough, YWCA Banff manager of services.

In the works for a number of years, the project has several Bow Valley community partners who have been excited to see the program launch, including Town of Canmore, Town of Banff, Bow Valley Addictions and Mental Health, both Canmore and Banff hospitals, Banff and Canmore RCMP, Victim Services, and the Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team – to name a few.

“We are really just hoping more survivors get support and people are feeling empowered in making choices and taking the next steps in their healing journeys,” Dillabough said.

“We’ve had a number of folks access [the program] who’ve heard about it in a variety of ways. To me that is an indicator of success that there are multiple ways for people to hear about support and access support.”

Last March, the Alberta government announced an $8.1 million investment into support for survivors of sexual assault in Alberta, which helped fund two full-time positions for the Bow Valley program. While the funding was critical to establishing the program, the community was also ready to welcome it according to Dillabough.

“Things like ‘Me Too’ and ‘I Believe You’ movements, we’ve seen the way those have taken off in our society and people are ready to have those conversations in a way they haven’t been able to in the past,” she said.

“So that community response and community readiness allows for our service providers to have some momentum and some traction ... I’ve been in the field of sexual violence for awhile and I’ve noticed a shift in, for example if I’m working a booth for [sexual violence] a lot of times people wouldn’t engage in conversation with me at all and now I’m having a ton of people engage in conversation.”

Identifying gaps in the current services available in the Bow Valley and education are two key aspects to the program. The program coordinator wants to help dispel the myths and also raise awareness of the different types of sexual violence that exist.

“A lot of people who are accessing our services are wondering about what happened to them and trying to define what happened to them and that is a super normal response,” Dillabough explained.

“Usually sexual violence is by someone we know and trust. Often we were OK at some parts of what happened and not OK with others. It is not the typical myth of someone jumping out of a bush and being a stranger who violently attacks – we know that is often more rare.”

When talking about sexual violence, Dillabough said the list includes sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

More than 90 per cent of survivors do not report their assaults to police, making sexual violence the most underreported crime in Canada, according to a fact sheet released last year
by Alberta.

“My background is in social work and previously to this … we all know sexual violence is bad, but I don’t think unless you work in this field you understand how pervasive it is, not only in our community but through our country,” said Jennifer Flynn, sexual violence response support worker with the YWCA Banff.

The program is working on a coordinated response plan to sexualized assault, which is to include a prevention and awareness campaign, training for emergency responders and community partners, and will look to streamline and improve services for victims of sexual assault.

“If you or someone who know has been impacted by sexual violence, support is available and we are here to meet you where you are at and support you with whatever choices you make,” Dillabough said.

The recently launched program is available to youth and adults ages 12 and over, and to all genders. The free, confidential services are available Monday to Saturday across the Bow Valley. For more information call 403-760-3200.

- With files from Alana MacLeod


Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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