Nova Scotia

Sexual assault survivor calls for funding as N.S. counselling grants expire

A woman who had to wait three days for a rape kit in rural Nova Scotia is imploring the province to commit to permanently funding counselling programs for sexual assault survivors.

'There's no timeline on how long it takes, on how long you feel unsafe after something that horrible happens'

This woman, who was sexually assaulted three years ago, says she wanted to speak out because she's concerned other sexual assault survivors won't get the support they need. (CBC)

Sitting sipping tea at a kitchen table, a Pictou County woman recalls the three excruciating days she waited, without being able to shower, for a team of nurses to examine her after she was sexually assaulted in her own home.

Her struggle didn't end there. In the months that followed, she was gripped by fear and anxiety. 

"I couldn't play with my kid in the yard. I couldn't go to the store. Even just going to the grocery store, I would start panicking. I couldn't do it," she said.

That began to change the day she walked through her counsellor's door. 

Three years after her attack, she said she still struggles with anxiety but now she's worried about whether the support she received will be there for others who've been raped or sexually abused.

A 31-year-old woman says she doesn't know where she'd be without ongoing counselling and support from a local sexual assault centre following a 2014 attack. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Counselling services for many survivors across Nova Scotia could end when provincial grants expire March 31. Over two years, $2.5 million was distributed to nine regions as part of the wider $6-million sexual assault strategy, which also includes prevention and education programs.

A progress report on the strategy found it offered hundreds of people group and private counselling sessions

"I am so confused as to how the government could think that the services no longer have value … that what I went through is never going to happen again," said the woman, who no longer lives in Pictou County.

CBC has agreed to protect her identity. 

"There's no timeline on how long it takes, on how long you feel unsafe after something that horrible happens to you."

The Department of Community Services declined the CBC's request for an interview but said the grants always had a time limit.  

"They are coming to an end as expected, as of March 2018," department spokesperson Bruce Nunn said in a statement. 

He said the department is now going through the budget review process and deciding which programs related to sexual violence will receive funding.

(Department of Community Services/Breaking the Silence report)

The expiring funding is also a concern for trauma therapist Margaret Mauger, who counsels people at the Colchester Sexual Assault Centre in Truro.

"It's stressful because we don't know what April 2018, what that fiscal year is going to look like. We may have to start telling clients that they're going to have a wait time of two to three months," she said. 

The organization put the money it received from the community grant toward expanding its staff from one person to include a full- and part-time therapist, in addition to its outreach worker. 

Still, Mauger said staff often volunteer their time to try to keep up with the community's needs. She said new people are calling every day and clients range in age from 14 to 72. 

Mauger said the organization may not be able to get out to schools as much to do education, prevention and awareness work, or may only have one staff person if funding dries up.

"It's just unacceptable. Every community in this province is affected by sexualized violence and every community needs support services." 

The organization has been waiting nearly six months for information from the province about funding, she said.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says there are now 30 sexual assault nurse examiners working throughout Nova Scotia, with plans to train 30 more nurses. That funding is not expiring. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

The timing of the grants' expiration coincides with an increasing demand for services as the #metoo movement and wider discussions of sexual violence are prompting people to confront their own experiences, said Lucille Harper of the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre, which has stable funding.

"At the same time we've opened a conversation, a broad conversation around sexualized violence, is the very time some therapeutic support services in the province are being shut down. And that's really problematic," she said. 

Last week, the Sexual Assault Services Network of Nova Scotia sent a letter to the premier and MLAs asking for a meeting and calling for more sexual violence trauma counselling across Nova Scotia.

Margaret Mauger counsels people at the Colchester Sexual Assault Centre. (CBC)

Shelley Curtis-Thompson, who works with the Pictou County Women's Resource and Sexual Assault Centre, said she's now trying to find other funding to pay for the trauma therapist who provides specialized support for sexual assault survivors one day a week. 

She's hopeful the service will continue, but she'd also like to be able to offer private, one-on-one sessions — which isn't an option now in the area. 

"In rural Nova Scotia where everyone knows their neighbour … it can be a real challenge in terms of the need for anonymity and the feeling of wanting to be sure about your privacy and confidentiality to take the risk to come to the group," she said. 

She says thanks to counselling, she's able to cope with the fear she experienced after being assaulted. (CBC)

The survivor said she doesn't know if she'd be alive without the support she received.  

"If there's no services there to help tell them they're OK, they're going to be OK, how do you expect someone to be able to heal and to feel safe if they don't have what they need to be able to do that?" she said.

"I don't think it's too much to ask for safety, for feeling like we matter."


Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to