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New sexual assault advocate program for the Cowichan Valley

A three-year pilot project that offers support services to survivors of sexual assault and also trains advocates to provide those supports is up and running in the Cowichan Valley.

The Sexual Assault Advocate Program is being offered by Warmland Women's Support Services Society and the Department of Justice Canada is footing the $156,000 bill.

"Our goal is to raise awareness about sexualized violence in our community and create a coordinated community-based response that is culturally competent and inclusive of all genders," program coordinator Kendra Thomas said. "We want to make the Cowichan Valley a safer place to report incidents of sexualized violence and our community has a role to play in that."

Thomas explained that project will address the needs of survivors while at the same time engage the community as active responders. Already up and running is the portion of the program in which survivors of sexual assault can call for supports like trauma counseling or for accompaniment by a trained volunteer to the hospital or to report assaults to the police.

The other half of the project is geared towards training those volunteers to provide support in times of need.

"Starting in April we will be starting our volunteer advocate training program," Thomas noted, adding the instruction is geared toward "essential skills development" for crisis intervention.

"This is a powerful undertaking and we are truly grateful for the federal government's trust and confidence in Warmland Women's Support Services to deliver this program," Thomas said.

With the training component of the program in mind, an information session is scheduled for Monday, March 27 beginning at 6 p.m. at 331 St. Julien St. in Duncan.

Interested community members are welcome to attend to learn about what it takes to be a trained volunteer and other service providers in the community can learn about how to refer survivors to the program.

Guest speaker Lucy Thomas of Hiiye'yu Lelum House of Friendship will talk about the barriers indigenous women face when reporting sexualized violence. Call 250-710-8177 or visit the Warmland Women Facebook page for more information.

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