A 25-year-old victim of an alleged sexual assault three years ago says she has fallen through the cracks and can’t access the counselling she now needs through victim services.
Karen da Silva is a PhD student and teaching assistant at UBC.
She says the recent frosh week scandal on the university's campus has triggered memories of her own ordeal.
“I never received help and I didn’t think I needed help,” she says.
“Help is for other people who needed it more than I do. The trouble was I didn’t think I needed help, now I do because I waited too long and repressed it so much.”
Three years ago, when she was a student at Ryerson University, da Silva says she was a victim of a sexual attack by a trusted friend.
“I was hanging out with a good friend of mine and after a night of hanging out, we went back to my apartment, played some chess. I started to feel a little unwell. Last thing I knew he was on top of me ... That was probably the most difficult part, realizing that someone that you trust could do something so heinous to you.”
She reported the incident to Toronto police and charges were laid in September 2010.
A year later she moved out to Vancouver to pursue a doctoral degree at UBC. She thought she had left the incident behind her, but when the frosh week chant scandal hit the headlines, the trauma of the incident came flooding back.
A UBC counsellor suggested she seek help from victim services and that's when da Silva says she hit a wall.
“I was just told because I moved out of Ontario I was only eligible for services where the crime occurred and if I moved out of Ontario I was no longer eligible for any services.”
When CBC News contacted Toronto Victim Services, a spokesperson confirmed that help is only available to residents, but added that someone should have helped da Silva get support in Vancouver.
Patchwork of support
Victims advocates say the patchwork of services across the regions need to be better coordinated, and that services are under-funded and over-stretched.
“Part of the problem that we’re dealing with in B.C. is how overwhelmed many of these services are, says Tracy Porteous, executive director of Ending Violence Association of B.C., a resource centre for victims of sexual assault.
“If she was sexually assaulted some time ago and she's looking for help now, yes it's available to her and she might have to wait and that's one of the pieces that we believe is unconscionable.”
Unbeknownst to da Silva, CBC News recently learned charges were withdrawn against her assailant.
In the meantime, she says she has no choice but to pay for the counselling she feels she needs.
After our story aired on CBC News, da Silva says Victim Services Toronto contacted her and they are now working with her to get counselling.
"VS Toronto got in touch, and even though I didn't get justice, I at least now have more information about my own case, and a support network that isn't shutting me out any more," she said.