VSAC is celebrating 40 years of serving the communities that live and reside in the traditional territories of the Lekwungen peoples known today as the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, and the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. Originally founded in 1982 by two women in a basement of a home in Cook Street Village with one phone line, VSAC has shifted, grown, and moved to be an integral part of the community.
A lot can change in 40 years. And for VSAC, a lot has changed. One of the incredible features of this organization is that we have continuously tried to move with the ebb and flow of society. We have tried to be responsive even if that still takes time. And there is a responsive quality to VSAC that stands out compared to other organizations in similar sectors. Originally founded to provide services to survivors of sexual violence, VSAC has also been at the forefront of trying to make systemic changes and has been a leader, locally, provincially and federally, providing resources, creating spaces, and advocating for change.
From a name change, adding to and reforming services, and moving physical spaces, VSAC has continued to listen, learn and evolve and move in order to support survivors, the support networks of survivors and the community at large. It is important to recognise this history.
Our hope is to use our history to explain our transformations, eliminations of barriers, and how VSAC has cemented itself as a critical place in community connection, support and healing.
1982 – The Status of Women Action Group sponsored a standing Committee with various women’s groups and individuals who wrote a proposal for a new Centre. This was to ensure continued availability of support services for women who have been sexually assaulted after a local agency called Rape Relief lost funding. Later that year, a Board of Directors was formed, and set about to establish a viable and effective independent society. Core funding for a new Centre was negotiated and secured from the BC Ministry of the Attorney-General. By the end of that year, an office was established and three part-time staff and volunteers for crisis line work were recruited.
Speaking of those three part-time staff and volunteers… One thing is for sure, VSAC’s movement and community involvement would be nothing short of impossible if it weren’t for the incredible staff who have dedicated their time, energy, and in some cases, careers, to bringing VSAC’s mission and goals to life.
Over the 40 years that VSAC has served the community, the amount of staff has steadily increased. And while all contributions are essential to the Centre, some staff have moved with VSAC for many of those 40 years. An incredible example is Tracy. Tracy started as a volunteer when the Agency was originally founded in 1982. She and her roommates at the time spent weeks of evenings and weekends to receive the training needed to support survivors and answer the newly established crisis line. By the end of this training, Tracy could see just how important this resource was for any survivor to have access to, was so empowered by the training and enthralled by the organization that she quit her job in order to volunteer with the Centre full-time. This was when there were 3 part-time staff and volunteers.
After a while in her volunteer role, Tracy and two others were successful in their application for a grant which they used to write the “Let’s talk about sexual assault” booklet. This resource was intended to be for young people as a resource to facilitate learning around experiences of sexual assault and how to increase one’s safety in the future (Tracy reminded us that this was before trauma-informed language was used the way it is today).
1983 – The “Let’s talk about sexual assault” booklet for teens was published. Later that year it won the Solicitor General’s National Crime Prevention Award. They received more and more funding to create further resources which they shared with schools, the police department, and more.
1987 – 1995 – Due to many factors including sufficient governmental support, VSAC underwent an enormous period of growth. The number of staff increased from 3 to 22 members. In an interview with Tracy, she said “[…this] was one of those moments where I could say if I died today, [it] would be OK because I had the ability and the privilege to have been involved in development of a brand new sexual assault agency from nothing to being on the map with 22 staff.”
Sexual Assault Response Team (SART)
1991 – The formation of the sexual assault response team (or SART) occurred (and came into effect in January 1992). This is a 24-hour emergency service that provides immediate support and information to recent survivors of sexual assault at the hospital or police station.
Prior to the Sexual Assault Response Team protocol that is in place today, no procedure existed to provide a coordinated response by medical professionals and VSAC when a survivor arrived at a hospital. Sometimes a survivor would be asked if they wanted support from VSAC, but if they declined, no alternative means of support were made available to them. Thus, very few survivors were actually reached and made aware of the emotional support and follow-up services available through VSAC. The nature of the VSAC support worker’s role was unknown to many hospital and police staff. Survivors were seen by Emergency Room Physicians who were not necessarily trained in the collection of evidence, nor court testimony and were not necessarily aware of the extent of the psychological trauma resulting from a sexual assault.
Survivors often had to wait for prolonged periods for medical or forensic exams, treatment rooms were not outfitted with the right equipment necessary to conduct a forensic exam and it was not unusual for a survivor to return home in a taxi or proceed to the police station wearing only a hospital gown. There was neither medical nor counseling follow-up for survivors who were unfamiliar with the services offered by VSAC. For these reasons, local physicians, hospital staff, and staff from VSAC recognized the need for change. In a collaborative effort, they developed a coordinated response to sexual assault.
1993 – Organization of the first annual triathlon for healing, VSAC’s largest and longest running fundraiser. The triathlon eventually became known as the Triathlon of Compassion and has become a community event with racers and fundraisers of all ages.
1998 – VSAC created a separate victim services worker position.
1999 – The key VSAC prevention program “Project Respect” was started.
2003 – A partnership with the Victoria Native Friendship Centre to create the Aboriginal youth health and prevention program was formed.
2004 – “Project Respect” won the Women’s Safety Award.
2007 – The first annual “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” awareness and fundraiser.
2008 – The trauma informed practice and support (TIPS) training program was created and TIPS training was provided to over 10 agencies.
2010 – Victoria Foundation honored VSAC with their leadership award.
From VWSAC to VSAC
2012 – Originally titled the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Clinic (VWSAC), the organization underwent a name change in 2012 to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC) as a part of the Centre’s process to becoming a trans inclusive agency. This change occurred in large part thanks to the trans community who came forward to call-in VSAC to do better, specifically naming the “Walk a Mile In Her Shoes” event as transmisogynistic, and recognizing that VSAC as a whole was not safe for trans people. From there VSAC was brought into conversation with community members and a process of trans inclusion, starting with hosting community consultations and getting feedback from trans folks, began. In 2012, VSAC opened up its services to be accessible to all members of the trans community, and it now provides support to other community agencies.
2014 – In the fall of 2014, VSAC initiated the Community-Based Response Network (CBRN) to develop and strengthen collaborative, coordinated responses to gender-based violence across Greater Victoria communities. The CBRN brought together local, community-based anti-violence organizations (Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, Victoria Women’s Transition House, Victoria Child Abuse Prevention & Counselling Society) with organizations serving communities that are disproportionately targeted for sexual violence and face the most barriers to accessing prevention and response services (Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, Inter-Cultural Association, Native Friendship Centre, Aboriginal Education Advisors, PEERS Victoria Resources Society).
2016 – In February 2016 we opened the Victoria Sexual Assault Clinic; the first, and only, integrated sexual assault clinic in B.C. Developed with enthusiastic support from Island Health, RCMP/Police, and Crown the clinic provides recent survivors of sexual assault with medical and forensic exams, crisis support, preventative medications, police and crown Interviews, counselling services, and other community service referrals in one location.
2017 – The Clinic won an Award of Merit for Collaborative Solutions at the BC Health Care Awards (BCHCA).
2018 – VSAC’s signature fundraising event, the Triathlon of Compassion, celebrated its 25th anniversary.
2019 – The Indigenous Community Response Network, kʷəné ŋətəl iʔ iʔsaət was formed. The Network brings together Indigenous partners, local Nations, organizations, community and urban voices to develop and support community-led initiatives for survivors of gender-based violence in a culturally grounded way. Find out more about the Network at https://www.vsac.ca/irn/
2020 – VSAC was responsive to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence. We adapted by providing telephone and virtual support sessions, and kept our clinic open throughout the pandemic, not missing a day of service.
2020 – Won the Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award
2020 – Project Respect began a collaboration with the community group Girls and Femmes with Afro-Textured Hair called Black Youth Empowerment (BYE). BYE’s focus is to create culturally relevant consent based prevention education. In May 2022, the six youth members of BYE were honoured with an award from the African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island in “recognition for their outstanding contribution to our communities.”
2022 – VSAC was honoured with the gold award for “Best Charity” in the Best of Victoria Awards 2022. Thank you to those that nominated and voted for us, recognizing the value of our work in healing, education, and prevention.
A very big thank you
2022 – Thank you to the community for being part of the movement and a crucial part of this journey with us.
-Written by Anna Bruce, VSAC Director