Contributed Photo Lucille Harper, (left) executive director with the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association, is seen here with Central Nova MP Sean Fraser; Annie Chau, community leader and women’s rights advocate; Molly Peters, Paqtnkek First Nation councilor; and Dr. Nancy Forestell, coordinator of the StFX Women and Gender Studies Department.

PORT HAWKESBURY: The Strait area now has a permanent resource available to survivors of sexual abuse.

The Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre now offers a permanent sexualized trauma therapy program in the region and the Strait Area Women’s Place (SAWP) in Port Hawkesbury is the first Cape Breton organization hosting the service.

“With the support of MLA Randy Delorey, permanent funding has come from the Nova Scotia Health Authority,” said Pamela Rubin, sexualized trauma therapist with Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre.

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SAWP has offered a therapy program for survivors of sexual abuse on a year-to-year basis since the centre opened in 2013. As a result of the funding, the program has become permanent and has grown from one therapist to two, increasing the number of clients who can be seen.

Therapists travel from Antigonish to SAWP to meet with clients for a total of four days per month. The program is available free of charge to all genders ages 16 and up. A specialized program is also available to young women aged 16 through 21 who are identified as at risk and requiring women-centred support. Rubin says the program helps provide tools and information based on individual clients’ needs.

“We don’t push people,” Rubin said. “It’s a very gentle approach and the person who has come in for the therapy gets to decide what we talk about. They get to decide what approaches suit them best and it puts them back in the driver’s seat.”

Rubin feels it is important for people to be able access this type of service in their home communities, noting that some people may not have the resources to drive to Antigonish or beyond to speak with a therapist.

“Sexual abuse, harassment, rape, these things happen in all communities, but they can be pushed very far into the shadows,” said Rubin. “So when the service is right there in your community, it’s easier to come check it out.”

Mary Elizabeth Cameron, women’s services facilitator for SAWP, told The Reporter that prior to the start of the program, there were few resources available for survivors of sexual abuse in the Port Hawkesbury area.

“I guess the big thing is the long wait lists with mental health,” Cameron said. “People were going too long without being able to access the therapy they needed.

“Because when trauma is blocking you from moving forward in your life, you don’t want to wait six months. You need the tools to be able to move forward now.”

There is no waitlist for the program at SAWP and clients can expect an appointment quickly. Cameron says that SAWP is an ideal welcoming location for those seeking help.

“The nice thing about it is when they come to the women’s centre it’s more of a neutral, anonymous kind of place,” said Cameron.

“You can go in and people don’t necessarily know why you’re coming.”

Cameron also pointed out that visitors have ready access to the wide variety of other services offered at SAWP as well. The centre hosts a women’s wellness clinic, access to legal aid, workshops on topics such as self-esteem and anxiety, and a variety of social activities.

“Someone could be initially just be coming to find out what services we offer or they just want to come for a cup of tea and then as they become more comfortable with the councillors here, then they may start opening up about issues they want to have addressed or things they need support with,” said Cameron.

The therapy program at SAWP is available each Wednesday. Appointments can be made by contacting the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre or SAWP.