A program pioneered in London that screens women for trauma, abuse and sexual assault when they’re getting help for mental health or addiction problems is being rolled out across the province.
“We’re going to train workers across Ontario in mental health and addiction services, because we want to make sure that wherever women go for help, the right door is open for them,” said Saundra-Lynn Coulter, provincial co-ordinator of the Ontario Woman Abuse Screening Project.
“We found here in London that the project made a significant difference and helped us identify women and connect them with the services they needed.”
A new provincial website to help women who have been abused, sexually assaulted or traumatized – from wars or childhood experiences, for example – find the right services to help them deal with all of their issues.
“In the past, we’ve had splintered services and now we’re starting to wrap our collective arms around the women who need help,” said London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews.
The province and Trillum foundation helped fund and support the website.
Through the screening project, which was piloted in London and Middlesex County, mental health and addiction service workers are trained how to detect women abuse, sexual assault or trauma and also trained to ask women seeking mental health and addiction services whether they’ve suffered abuse.
“This is groundbreaking,” said Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, the project’s lead agency.
“This is men and women working together to help end violence and abuse against women.”
More than 50 agencies from across the province will now use the screening protocols.
London has long been a leader in screening. Years ago, the Middlesex London Health Unit developed the Routine Universal Comprehensive Screening (RUCS) protocol, designed to have health care providers ask women if they are suffering domestic violence. The Ontario Women Abuse Screening Project is an extension of that.
The pilot project found “60% to 80% of women disclosed abuse when asked,” Coulter said.
“That’s an incredible difference. We’ve reached women we never would have reached if we didn’t ask the questions.”