Demand spiking for sexual assault services in Atlantic provinces

Allegations against high-profile men such as Harvey Weinstein have prompted an increase in requests for services.

More people asking for therapeutic counselling and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program

Counselling services in the Atlantic provinces have seen a spike in demand, according to a service provider in Halifax. (Shutterstock)

Service providers for victims of sexualized violence on the East Coast are seeing a jump in the number of people seeking help following a number of high-profile sexual assault and harassment cases. 

Allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have sparked a stream of revelations about the behaviour of other male celebrities and public figures.

Counselling services in the Atlantic provinces have seen a spike in demand, according to a service provider in Halifax. 

Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax, spoke with the CBC's Information Morning.

Jackie Stevens, the executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says the organization has received more requests for help in recent years. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

In the past year or so, what sort of increases have you seen in the number of people accessing sexual assault services from you and your counterparts in the region?

Certainly over the past few years, with all of the high-profile cases and all the people coming forward, [we] have seen an increase for requests for all of our programs and services, particularly our Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner [SANE] program and our therapeutic counselling program. 

I know from talking to my counterparts within Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region and across the country that all sexual assault services are seeing increases in people accessing their services. 

What we're noticing is that more people are accessing services — counselling services — sooner than they had in the past, and we're also seeing more people calling for the very first time. So whether it's a recent sexual assault or it's a historical sexual assault, people are coming forward and disclosing and asking for services for the first time. 

Demand for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, which includes provision of forensic examination services, has increased in the past few years. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Is this a Weinstein effect, or is there a broader issue here?

I certainly think it is a broader issue. I think what's happening now is that more people are coming forward. You know, there's more awareness of sexualized violence. People are talking about it more, but there's also more people indicating that they believe people when they say they've been sexually victimized and targeted for sexualized violence.

Some people may be hearing this for the first time, but this is a reality that has always happened and particularly, you know, for women in the workplace, this is a huge reality. And along with people in Hollywood, certainly women in food service and bar service, hospitals, hotels, particularly housekeepers, you know, a lot of people are targeted for sexualized violence.

For a long time we've had a very narrow perception of who are sexual offenders, and we're being forced as a society to have to acknowledge the concepts of power and control and abuse and who is perpetuating sexualized violence.

Are service providers in the region maxed out because of demand?

Some services have identified never having wait-lists for the history of the programs and suddenly they have wait-lists for counselling. People [are not] able to keep enough staff or volunteers for their 24-hour crisis lines. 

And with Avalon we continue to have our wait-lists grow for our sexual assault services for people who've experienced sexual assault or abuse, and we also continue to see an increase in people calling for the first time and after recent sexual assault.

What this means is that we're then juggling, trying to respond to all of those needs and see people in a timely manner, so they're not getting lost on a wait-list or they're not experiencing further trauma effects while they're waiting.

It is crucial that people know that services like Avalon exist and that they are there for them, so I encourage people to still reach out and to call for support and services in their areas. And the reason that we raise these issues is so that funders and governments understand the severity of the issue and the need for services. 

With files from the CBC's Information Morning