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Research Inspires New Supports For Sexual Assault Survivors

2012/07/16

Karen Wood, a Postdoctoral research fellow for the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC), has seen how far reaching the impacts of community based research can be.

Wood worked on a participatory action research project, funded by IPHRC, to determine whether or not the physical and psychological space and programming at Tamara’s House, a Saskatoon-based non-profit agency dedicated to providing services for women healing from childhood sexual abuse, promoted healing for Aboriginal survivors. Programs included Harmony Song, a service that provided support for women who were impacted by the residential school system. The program incorporated traditional Aboriginal concepts and methods by promoting the healing of the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual dimensions of the self. Many of the women who used the services offered by Tamara’s House were First Nations or Metis.Wood, the Director of Tamara’s House at the time of the project, wanted to find ways to make the agency more accessible for all women, but also to be culturally responsive and respectful.

“I wanted to know if we were really accomplishing what we set out to do,” Wood said. “And if there were ways we could be doing it better.”

A network of similar service providers in both urban and remote areas used community meetings to generate information for developing tools and resources that would allow them to more effectively serve their Aboriginal female clients.

A woman who participated in one of the community research meetings in La Ronge, and subsequently used the services of Tamara’s House, was a member of the La Ronge Native Women’s Council (LRNWC). Inspired by her experience at Tamara’s House and the research project, she became active in securing services for victims of sexual abuse. The result of her effort was a successful 36 month grant for the LRNWC to focus on sexual assault awareness and finding ways to end violence against women and girls. The organization is now piloting sexual assault services to an under-served population of about 33,000 residents in northern Saskatchewan.

Wood notes that the project itself had many other important impacts in the community and surrounding areas in several ways, from immediate service provision and delivery to capacity building in the researchers themselves. Wood herself was inspired to go back to school to obtain her Ph.D., while one of the community staff researchers returned to school to complete her Masters in Social Work.

As the community meetings continued, Tamara’s House also received immediate feedback on how to improve their services. “We learned that our admission process was too restrictive,” notes Wood. “We shifted very quickly to a harm reduction model, enabling us to consider individual needs. Since we were able to immediately put into place policy changes as the feedback came in from the participants, we also learned that women in remote areas really knew very little about Tamara’s House, and those who were familiar with it, didn’t think they could access it.” The project raised overall awareness and increased use of Tamara’s House in both La Ronge and the surrounding area.

It is the unanticipated outcomes such as these that make community research projects so important to Wood. “I think funders don’t always know all the potential impacts of funded research. There are so many that are not visible or immediately noticed –impacts that ripple through our communities in a positive way. It’s about folks recognizing they have a voice and using that voice in a positive way.”

For more information about this story, please contact:

Cassandra J. Opikokew
Knowledge Translation & Communications
Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC)
CK 115 University of Regina
3737 Wascana Parkway
Regina, SK S4S 0A2
Ph: (306) 337-2510
Cell: (306) 537-2043
Fax: (306) 585-5694
Email: [email protected]

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