Saskatchewan

Regina sexual assault victims waiting up to 9 months for counselling

The long wait time is very unusual and hasn't improved in 18 months, according to the Centre's executive director Lisa Miller. 

Backlog is very unusual, says sexual assault centre director, and hasn't improved in 18 months

Lisa Miller, Regina Sexual Assault Centre executive director, said adding people to the growing wait list is extremely difficult. “It is literally a stab in my heart," she said. (CBC)

Between 70 and 90 victims of sexual assault are currently on a wait-list for counselling services at the Regina Sexual Assault Centre.

Most will have to wait between seven and nine months for services.

The wait time has been consistent for about 18 months, according to the Centre's executive director Lisa Miller. 

Those who need urgent care can call its crisis line or see a walk-in counsellor at another clinic. But the Centre is the only place in the area offering long-term counselling, with specific help for sexual assault and violence. 

The increased awareness around sexual violence can be somewhat of a double-edged sword, Miller said. Since the #MeToo movement began, she said more people are reaching out for help, but the counsellors can't get to everyone in a timely manner. 

"I will tell every person that calls, when I have to tell them there's a wait-list, that it is literally a stab in my heart that I have to say that to them," said Miller.

"For many folks, something has precipitated that phone call ... [they're saying] I know I need some help, I need somebody to listen to me. And to have to tell them, 'Thanks for calling, but we'll see you in eight months.'"

"It's really hard."

Miller said the Centre has never had backlog like this and the prolonged wait times are very unusual.

Former client calls backlog 'heartbreaking'

A local sexual assault victim, whose convicted attacker is currently awaiting sentencing, told CBC she saw a counsellor at the Centre for months after the incident in 2016 that she said changed her life. 

She didn't have to wait then, but said the current backlog is "heartbreaking."

"They need more bodies. They need more funding," she said. 

She's seen a therapist or life coach every week since the assault happened. She now gets private therapy covered through work, so she doesn't rely on the Centre anymore. But many others do.

The Centre services a large region which includes Moose Jaw and Assiniboia.

Miller said there aren't enough counsellors employed in order to meet the need present. She said at least one more must be hired, but the Centre doesn't have the money for it.

The provincial government provided $236,234 to the Centre for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The rest of its operating costs — 33 per cent — comes from individual grants and fundraising. 

Centre says more money from province needed

In its most recent budget, the province allocated $30 million for mental health and addictions care. But even though the Centre provides services related to mental health, they receive money through the Ministry of Justice, not the Ministry of Health, so they couldn't access any of that money. 

"Sexual violence is a health issue, it's a social services issue, it's a justice issue, and it's trying to get all of those partners on board and recognizing the work we do and how they need to contribute," she said. She called the issue "multi-ministerial" and said she hopes the ministries will come together to find a solution.

In a statement emailed to CBC, the Ministry of Justice said, "When complex issues like these arise, we work with agencies on a case-by-case basis to resolve them. We are currently in discussions with the Regina Sexual Assault Centre on how best to address this issue."   

The province said it has been focused on expanding services for survivors of sexual violence in areas with no or limited access. Since 2017-18, the province said it has invested 24 per cent more for victims. 

In 2019-20, the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General and the Ministry of Corrections and Policing will provide $1.5 million to agencies that help sexual assault victims.

Despite the lengthy wait, the Centre is still encouraging victims to add their name to the wait-list. 

Miller said she believes quality, ongoing clinical counselling is a means of prevention. 

"Some of these people are raising children. When you talk about impacting intergenerational trauma and intergenerational abuse, [a part of that] is wanting to create healthy individuals so that we can make an impact on that," Miller said. 

As a stopgap for the wait-list, the Centre started up two-hour psychoeducational workshops on trauma, which run on Fridays.

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