Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Legislation Change Could Affect Confidentiality for Youth Reporting Sexual Assault

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Legislation Change Could Affect Confidentiality for Youth Reporting Sexual Assault

Article excerpt

Legislation change could affect youth confidentiality

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HALIFAX - Some organizations are concerned a proposed change to Nova Scotia's child protection legislation could have an unintended adverse effect.

The proposed amendments to the province's Children and Family Services Act, which are set to be debated in the legislature this fall, include raising the definition of a child to apply to those under 19 instead of the current age of 16.

The change is designed to help vulnerable youth who under current legislation are too old for child protection services to get involved, but too young to qualify for other assistance programs.

The protection would be available on a voluntary basis, at the request of the youth.

"There are gaps in services for 16, 17, [and] 18-year-olds right now, and that gap is egregious," said children's advocate Delores Feltmate, who supports the proposed amendments.

"Plugging that hole is absolutely paramount, to [those children], but also for us as a community."

However, the change would mean the age for mandatory reporting of sexual assault or sexual violence would also be raised to 19.

Detractors fear this would deter victims of sexual assault who are younger than 19 from reporting the incident.

"When people access services, they are very concerned about confidentiality and their right to determine who finds out about their sexual assault or sexual abuse," said Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax.

She was joined by several student unions and university health and counselling services in meeting with government officials last week to discuss their concerns over the amendments.

Many university and college students fall in the age range that would be affected by the change.

"If we can't guarantee confidentiality, many first and second year students simply won't feel comfortable disclosing their assault," Dalhousie Student Union Vice President Kaitlynne Lowe said in a news release. …

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