Concern grows for victims in wake of closure of Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre
Community members, former workers call for accountability in letter to board
Charu Malhotra has found herself between tears and outrage since she found out about the temporary closure of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre.
"Now there are hundreds of folks that can't access services around sexualized violence. It made me sad. Now I'm enraged," said Malhotra, a psychotherapist who worked at the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC) for 17 years.
Organizations that help victims of sexual violence in Ottawa say they don't know how they'll fill the void when the ORCC closes in early December. The closure is expected to last from six to eight months, the ORCC board said.
Melissa Heimerl, executive director of Ottawa Victim Services, says the board has done the community a disservice by not reaching out and by not planning its restructuring better.
"We don't even know what to tell those survivors when they start calling," said Heimerl. "I think all our organizations are operating at max capacity right now with the pandemic."
Heimerl said it's common practice to prepare clients for a gradual transition, rather than quick end to therapy.
"[The ORCC] also held the only crisis line for survivors of sexual violence in the community," said Heimerl, "Where do we now send all of these folks who might be feeling triggered at night or on the weekend?"
Letter demands board accountability
Thameena Nazir, who left her job at the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre in September, says the organization lacked effective leadership after the pandemic began. She says the board should have sought help from the wider community months ago.
"I believe we could have figured things out," said Nazir who notes when the lockdown began, staff didn't have cell phones, laptops or a clear plan as to how to deliver services remotely.
Nazir says earlier this fall, she and other counsellors were helping dozens of women and there were at least 45 names on a wait list.
Nazir along with hundreds of other community members and former workers signed a letter published on social media earlier this week, calling for accountability from the ORCC board.
"The relatively new board fired all staff, including people who had worked at the organization for over 30 years. Five of the staff fired were Black, Indigenous, People of Colour," states the letter which has been signed by close to 350 people.
"The damage and the implications of it are enormous. I do hope that the board of directors will listen to the community," said Rukiya Mohamed Nur, who worked as a counselling coordinator at the centre for two years.
The letter calls for the board to publicly commit to "building increased methods of accountability, transparency, and community involvement."
If you are a survivor of sexual violence and are looking for support you can call Ottawa Victim Services at 613-238-2762.