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Rape crisis services struggling to keep up with increased demand

Last Updated Jan 31, 2018 at 7:05 pm EDT

In the current #metoo climate, it’s not just celebrities who are speaking out about sexual assault — more and more Ontario women are seeking support in dealing with their experiences of sexual violence.

But those turning to crisis centres for counseling find themselves waiting for months to access services because there aren’t enough resources to meet the surge in demand.

“We’ve seen an increase in the last year for counselling for sexual abuse and assault of 83 per cent,” says Amanda Dale, Executive Director of the Barbra Schlifer clinic, which supports women who experience violence. “It’s an absolutely positive thing that we’re having this conversation on a broader level, but the thing that concerns me is we set women up for disappointment.”

The Toronto clinic isn’t the only one finding it difficult to meet the growing demand. Hamilton’s rape crisis centre reports their calls have doubled, and their wait times for a counsellor have jumped from two to six months.

“It’s worse to disclose and have a bad response, than to not disclose at all,” says Dale. “It compounds the feeling of betrayal and it costs the system a whole lot more to wait until a woman is in an emergency ward or until she has a crisis or her children are apprehended.”

She says her clinic has had to get creative to ensure women get the support they need. ”We have opened up groups for women to come speak to one another with a facilitator,” Dale says. “We’re doing on the phone, very quick, one-time consults and safety planning to make sure women aren’t leaving that call with nothing.”

Advocates believe the issue at hand is that the provincial government’s core funding model hasn’t changed since the 1990s. While the province did put forward $41 million dollars into their ‘Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment’ last year, many say there isn’t enough funding allocated for more front line workers and counsellors.

“The UN identified violence against women as a global pandemic, and Canada’s numbers are no different,”  says Dale, “And yet, we’re supposed to deal with a pandemic by holding bake sales.”

A spokesperson from the Ministry of the Attorney General said in an email statement that the province is working to ensure adequate support is in place:

“Ontario recognizes the devastating impact that sexual assault can have not only on survivors but on their friends, loved ones and their community. Through services like counselling, 24-hour crisis lines and public education, Sexual Assault Centres are on the front lines of combating sexual violence and harassment. That is why in 2016 as part of our government’s “It’s Never Okay” action plan, we increased funding to sexual assault centres by $1.75 million per year. Ontario will continue to build on this investment and will continue working to make sure that the right supports are there to meet any increase in individuals reporting sexual assault.”