The sudden resignation last week of several nurses who examine sexual assault victims in Winnipeg has left one of Manitoba’s most powerful Indigenous leaders with “deep concerns” about how those resignations will affect Indigenous women and girls.

Last week, Shared Health announced that a total of seven nurses had resigned from casual positions with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program at the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) in Winnipeg.

“These departures have resulted in a gap in service coverage and we are working to minimize future gaps,” a spokesperson for Shared Health said in a statement last week after the resignations were announced.

The Manitoba Nurses Union said last week that because of those resignations, the SANE program had a 16-hour period last Tuesday with no coverage.

The union also said earlier this year that there have been sexual assault victims in recent months that have been told to leave HSC and not shower, and to come back later because no one was available to examine them.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said she is concerned about the resignations and ongoing staffing issues in the program, because she said many of the women and girls in this city and province who are sexually assaulted are often Indigenous, and because statistics released by the federal government in 2022 showed that Indigenous women and girls in Canada experience much higher rates of sexual assault than non-Indigenous women and girls.

“First Nation women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people continue to be targeted when it comes to sexual violence, and when the avenues of seeking justice for that violence become too convoluted with delays and staff shortages, the feelings of disparity prevail,” Merrick said.

“This failure to provide affirming care puts survivors at risk of mental distress, self-harm, and suicide.”

She said she believes it is now up to the provincial government to take steps to improve staffing issues within the SANE program, or she said more women and girls who have been sexually assaulted will be forced to deal with “re-victimization” when seeking care after an assault.

“It is incredibly disheartening to know that an essential program that is supposed to be a safe, supportive, and affirming option for those victims who have experienced unimaginable trauma, has now become a source of frustration, disappointment and re-victimization,” Merrick said.

“First Nations women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA in Manitoba deserve to feel that they have a supportive, caring, compassionate, and safe space when reporting sexual assaults.

“Access to rights-affirming care in a safe space with staff who are attentive, caring, and efficient is vital to ensuring that those who experience violence are respected and supported, as they decide their next steps.”

In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun, a spokesperson for Shared Health said they are now taking both short-term and long-term steps to ensure the SANE program is adequately staffed, but said that as of Monday “this service remains available and individuals who have experienced sexual assault or intimate partner violence continue to be encouraged to seek care.”

“Our focus in the past week has been on stabilizing access and availability of sexual assault and intimate partner violence services for our patients. This has occurred, as a number of specialist physicians, nurse practitioners and others have stepped forward to provide this service during periods when a SANE nurse is not scheduled,” the spokesperson said.

“These staff will support existing SANE staff in continuing to provide a safe, culturally sensitive service for survivors of sexual assault and/or intimate partner violence.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 27, 2023 at 16:28

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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