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Health authority reviews sexual assault policy

Victims must travel to see experts in Vancouver for forensic workups

A review of the region's sexual assault policy, which looks at the services provided for Whistler victims, is almost complete.

"Vancouver Coastal has been reviewing its sexual assault policy and in reviewing that policy is looking at what is the most appropriate service to provide to patients when they come in and where is the most appropriate place to provide those services," said Anne Townley, interim manager, mental health and public health at Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Anecdotally, the Whistler Health Care Centre treats about half a dozen victims a year who request a full forensic workup, a necessary step if the victim is going to pursue the case in the courts.

To have that forensic work done, victims must travel to Vancouver to see the experts based out of Vancouver General Hospital (VGH). Known as SANEs, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are part of a team that provides care 24 hours a day. They can collect forensic examples and summarize the findings in a medical legal report.

Whistler's policy to send victims to Vancouver will not change as part of the authority's ongoing review.

"The team at Vancouver General are experts in this," explained Townley. "They do it frequently, unfortunately, and they have the most current knowledge, and data and practice to be able to do this.

"Whistler provides the emotional support. We provide any STD drugs. We do the initial medical assessment and any treatment. So we do look after sexual assault patients, absolutely.

"We'd love to be able to provide every patient that comes in every single service they could possibly imagine but that's not realistic. And it may not be best for the health care and it may not be best for the patient in all cases."

Whistler RCMP is in the process of investigating a recent sexual assault. In this specific case, the victim reported waking up in a strange hotel room. Police are waiting for the toxicology results to determine the presence of a date rape drug such as Rohypnol or GHB, and are waiting to do further interviews.

Townley said on average about once a week nurses and doctors at the Whistler Health Care Centre treat patients complaining of possible date rape drugging, a statistic that typically increases in the fall when new people arrive in town.

"Once a week is not an uncommon scenario," said Townley.

It is up to the individual patient to report it to the RCMP.

Whistler RCMP Staff Sergeant Steve LeClair said his files show there are perhaps two sexual assaults per year linked to date rape drugging.

"Anecdotally I don't see that many reports," he said. "I suspect if we go back through the years we would see probably two a year.

"I certainly don't think it's epidemic in our community.

"We work closely with all of our nightclubs... I know that our Whistler nightclubs are committed to providing a fun, safe environment for their patrons. That's just good business. If it's happening and it's not being reported, people know that they should report it so that those incidents can be fully investigated."

The police message remains: don't leave drinks unattended, don't accept drinks from strangers, listen to your own gut feeling, and ensure that you pre-plan for a safe way home.