Best practice at sexual assault unit puts victims at ease

HELP 24/7: Orange’s sexual assault professionals Sue Burke and Julianne Potts say Orange is fortunate to have an excellent response team to support victims of sexual assault.
Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0516sgcounsel1

HELP 24/7: Orange’s sexual assault professionals Sue Burke and Julianne Potts say Orange is fortunate to have an excellent response team to support victims of sexual assault. Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0516sgcounsel1

THE sexual assault unit based out of Orange hospital is a highly sophisticated network involving a 24-hour seven-days-a-week service, which last year responded to 56 victims requiring help.

According to Western Local Health District manager of sexual assault Sue Burke the system in place in Orange now to support victims of sexual assault is a far cry from more than 20 years ago when she first began counselling victims.

“Figures for sexual assault have remained static for several years and of course the figures we have here at the hospital don’t include people who go straight to the police station to report a sexual assault,” she said.

“We’ve come such a long way, and of course it is very distressing for victims, but what we have in place now makes a response quicker, particularly in relation to child sexual assault,” she said.

Orange senior sexual assault counsellor Julianne Potts said victims who come to the hospital are now benefiting from a quick response by health professionals who include a highly trained team of general practitioners.

“Within half an hour there is support available in a room we have specially set aside for privacy at the hospital,” Ms Potts said.

Ms Burke said the high level of training among health professionals who now who deal with sexual assault victims is designed to remove any added pressure on the traumatised victim.

“Our support program is designed so the victim only has to tell their story once instead of to multiple people and that mitigates some of the stress,” she said.

Ms Burke said the service operating out of Orange is designed to help all sexual assault victims of any age - including people who are looking for help after an historical sexual assault.

She said a co-ordinated response between police, health and counselling services is there to give options to victims of sexual assault.

“This initial counselling is a process that takes several hours because it is important we support and provide as much information as possible to victims so they feel they have a choice.

“Many decide they don’t want to pursue legal action and by allowing people to make that choice it is empowering them after a situation where someone else has had power over them,” she said.

Ms Burke said this choice could involve the collection of forensic samples.

“They [samples] can be preserved for a later time if a victim decides they want to take legal action down the track,” she said.

Ms Potts said victims of historical assaults are encouraged to come forward and seek help and support by calling the service at Orange hospital.

If you need help or support following an historical or recent sexual assault call 63 693300.

janice.harris@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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