Committed to fighting all forms of abuse, the Association of Communities Against Abuse continues to broaden its reach in the community and beyond.
“Our therapy program is specialized in childhood sexual abuse treatment,” said Stephanie Hadley, executive director of the organization. She said the service is unique to East Central Alberta.
“This is our home base here in Stettler but the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services is the umbrella organization, and then there are 13 centres like us,” she said.
“A big part of our service is treatment and therapy,” she explained. “With those programs, we currently have nine therapists that work throughout the region. And we have a pretty unique model – it was built and designed in the late 80s/early 90s as a rural model. At that time, and even through to today, it’s maybe one of two that are set up like that,” she said.
In the local office there are only two staff, but in the bigger picture there is actually a team of 50 altogether.
“We have the nine therapists throughout the east central region and we have one clinical supervisor in Edmonton who oversees the treatment program,” she added.
Family support workers are also available to help out when someone is accessing treatment. “We also have a community worker who can help out with navigating the system, or who can also give immediate support if there is an incident. They can help in providing options and information, too.
“Those services, in addition to the other programs we have, are really key. And they really enhance what we do,” she said, adding that staff are also available to do free presentations on healthy relationships and abuse prevention.
“If someone is looking to increase their knowledge, we can provide that,” she said.
“People can also either call in or they come in in person. We’ve even had a couple of people self-refer by email.”
Hadley said what follows is a short interview that is a key part of the intake process.
“They then go on a wait list to see one of those nine councillors.
“In terms of sexual violence, it very often goes hand in hand with other forms of abuse – relationship violence, emotional abuse, or neglect,” she explained.
She pointed out that province-wide, intakes of sexual violence cases have more than doubled over the last couple of years.
Part of that likely stems from the bolstered awareness around the issue across society, thanks to the #MeToo movement and such.
“There has been a real increase in awareness over the last three or four years.
“ASAS had also kicked off the #IBelieveYou campaign, and almost within that first year is when the #MeToo movement happened as well,” she said. “The combination of those two things blew the lid right off of it.”
Sadly, there are parts of the east-central region that have seen a six-fold increase in the number of intakes.
In a way, it’s good to know that a spike in overall awareness could be encouraging more victims to come forward for help.
“It’s also alarming for us as an agency to try and meet that demand, too,” she said. “But that surge in people coming forward is happening everywhere – not just here.”
Hadley said the roots of the organization spring from a very committed group.
“It was founded by a group of people who cared – and they just took that torch and ran with it. From the 80s even to just five or 10 years ago, it was really a tough fight to get funding for this type of work and to get people to coordinate a massive, rural initiative like that.
“Seeing that growth, seeing how much work they have done and how many people that have been helped, and seeing the testimonials and letters that have come from clients that have accessed the services – I can’t think of a better job than this. I am so fortunate to be here.”
Currently, the Association also offers a range of preventative education programs, and those are available for people of all ages.
“We have a variety of them that are designed for schools for pre-K up to Grade 12. Basically there are three programs that we developed back in the early 90s that we continue to use today,” she said.
It’s clearly very meaningful work, not to mention deeply fulfilling.
“Personally and professionally, I’m really passionate about this issue,” said Hadley, reflecting on what helps to fuel her desire to reach out and help guide victims to help and healing.
“I know a lot of people that have experienced sexual violence and I’ve seen the impact it has on lives,” she said. “I’ve also seen how important support is, and how difficult it can be to access it.”
For more information, check out www.againstabuse.ca or call 403-742-3558.