Sask. sexual assault centre reducing services due to lack of funding

The Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre will be cutting some of its services at the end of June due to a lack of provincial funding.

24-hour crisis line axed; no longer travelling north of Battleford for counselling, prevention education

Clients from the northern part of the province will have to travel to the Battlefords for counselling. Other cuts include hospital accompaniment and the 24-hour crisis line. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

A sexual assault centre in North Battleford will be cutting some of their services due to a lack of provincial funding.

The Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre (BASAC) is one of the only provincially-funded outreach centres for people in northern Saskatchewan who have been been affected by sexual violence.

It provides support and counselling for people around central and northern Saskatchewan, as well as prevention education programs for schools.

"Saskatchewan needs to step up," said Amber Stewart, executive director of BASAC. "We fall short and we fall behind and the survivors are the ones who pay the price."

"They are more at risk after experiencing a trauma to struggle with other mental health issues, and suicide and depression and anxiety," she said.

Cutting services

As of June 30, BASAC will no longer travel to Meadow Lake or further north for prevention education or counselling. Instead, people will have to come to the Battlefords for counselling, which can involve a several hour commute.

On top of that, the centre will no longer provide a 24-hour crisis line.

Hospital accompaniment for people affected by sexual violence will also be restricted to weekdays during working hours.

"The staff really would keep going and I would keep sending them if we could, but we're just in a position right now where we can't. We can't meet the need. We're stretched too thin," said Stewart.

"Unfortunately this is the decision that's been made and it is hard on us."

Increased demand

BASAC currently has five staff members with about 50 individual clients.

In the last fiscal year, the organization spoke to over 1,600 children and youth about prevention education, including the importance of consent, Stewart said. 

Stewart said BASAC has saw an increase in demand across the board, including increased interest in preventative education and at least 60 per cent more individual clients last year. 

Despite the increased workload, Stewart says BASAC has not seen a funding increase for six years.

"With no increase in funding in such a long period of time, it's almost equivalent to a decrease, and so it's just another way of failing people that do find the strength to reach out for help."

They also signed a new contract recently that means they will not see an increase for at least another three years.

"The Ministry of Justice values the programs and services that the Battlefords' and Area Sexual Assault Centre Inc. and other sexual assault services provide to victims of sexual violence," the province said in a statement. 

"We're aware of concerns that have been raised about funding and pressures the organizations are under. We are committed to working with sexual assault services to discuss how to best address their needs moving forward."

The provincial government provides $1.2 million annually to seven sexual assault service programs across Saskatchewan.

With files from Janani Whitfield