London

Challenges remain for local sexual assault centres, despite funding announcement

The Ford government announced Tuesday it would maintain current funding for victim service programs across the province and provide an extra $1 million in funding for sexual assault centres in 2019 and 2020.

The provincial government announced it would support 42 centres in Ontario including French-language ones

One of two shelters operated by Anova, which provides support for victims of sexual violence. Executive director Jessie Rodger says staff are struggling to balance demands to help clients who come to the door and those already in shelter. (Google Street View)

The Ford government announced Tuesday it would maintain current funding for victim service programs across the province and provide an extra $1 million in funding for sexual assault centres in 2019 and 2020.

It would help 42 centres in Ontario including French-language ones.

​Though grateful, the executive directors of two southwestern Ontario sexual assault centres say there are still many challenges ahead.

"I'm not sure that the bandages will cover all the area that is needed," said Michelle Schryer, executive director at the Chatham-Kent Sexual Assault Crisis Centre.

"Having our funding maintained is wonderful but we need to acknowledge that there is a huge demand in service and with that we need to figure out how we're going to address the increase in demand in services," said Jessie Rodger, executive director at Anova, a London-based organization that provides support to victims of sexual violence and abuse.

The Ministry of the Attorney General said the one-time funding would increase overall support to $15.8 million. The annual base funding is $14.8 million. 

Service pressures

Officials said movements like #MeToo have empowered people to come forward, which partially led to the increase in service pressures.

"Right now we are experiencing a crisis," said Rodger.

"We're experiencing a crunch. We're seeing an increase in women accessing and requesting sexual assault counselling. We have … over 50 women waiting to see a counsellor. It can take months for them to see someone. We are seeing a huge increase in our calls to our crisis and support line," she added, noting the London centre currently receives about $533,000 from the ministry.

"We've had to eliminate some services and clawback services and it's very hard to do," said Schryer.

It's unclear how the $1 million will be divided across the centres and officials are "waiting to find out" just how much their slice will be.

Previous Liberal promise

Tuesday's funding announcement is much different than a promise made by the previous Liberal government.

Sexual assault centres and support services for male survivors of sexual abuse programs were told last March they'd receive an additional $14.8 million dollars spread out over three years. It would've also helped increase access to services to people in rural areas.

​That funding never came through and Schryer said it's "very disappointing."

Suze Morrison, Ontario's NDP Women's Issues critic, said in a statement Tuesday that the Ford government is "[holding] funds that were promised to sexual assault centres hostage."

"Survivors in our province deserve predictable multi-year funding that enables organizations to have stability. This one-time hand-out falls woefully short of what is needed to tackle staggering waiting lists across Ontario to access counselling," the statement read.

Officials said centres will have to regroup to determine how best to press for more funding.