The Victoria Sexual Assault Centre is about to get a long-awaited financial boost from the province.
On Oct 20, New Democrat MLA Grace Lore for Victoria-Beacon Hill made the announcement that the provincial government is going to provide funding for additional services and support for survivors of sexual violence in Victoria, Vancouver, Kamloops, Prince George and Surrey.
Starting next April, $10 million will be allotted to support sexual assault centres in these five urban centres, including the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre.
“People who experience sexualized violence are able to access wrap-around, survivor-centred services, from health care, to emotional support, to police reporting options from the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre,” said Lore, who is also the minister of state for child care.
“This funding will allow this vital organization to continue to provide these services and benefit more people in our region.”
Each facility will receive $300K annually, prorated for 2023.
- ‘One-of-a-kind’: Federal minister tours Victoria Sexual Assault Centre
- ‘We need more of these services, not less’: Victoria Sexual Assault Centre ends long-term counselling as demand increases
The integrated Victoria clinic-where those who have experienced sexual assault are able to receive a range of trauma-informed services, including medical exams, forensic tests and crisis support services-has been struggling to meet its demand.
Executive director Sam Loppie spoke about what the funding means to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre. “We have struggled with finding funding that was consistent and that was at a level that matched what our budget was to run the clinic.”
This funding will allow the VSAC to continue providing counseling, among other services.
The centre was founded in 2016 but had been struggling financially. In 2022, it suspended its individual long-term counselling because of lack of capacity and a growing waiting list.
The organization managed to raise $10K in June, through its successful Triathlon of Compassion event but that was just a fraction of what it needed.
Community impact of funding for the VSAC
The new multi-year funding is, in the words of Loppie,“a total game changer.”
“In terms of the city, not only does it offer survivors options, it links our clinic and our centre with our 24-hour sexual assault response team, which means that anytime, day or night,” she said.
“Our volunteers and staff are always on call to provide that emotional support or that support through the medical or police process.”
Chandra Berkan Hozempa, a director at the centre, co-authored the 2023 Changing Perceptions of Sexual Assault Research Project-a collaborative effort involving the BC Women’s Hospital, Ending Violence Association of BC, UBC and UVic. She and her colleagues concluded that 37% of women in BC have been sexually assaulted at least once, since the age of 15.
“We know anecdotally,” said Loppie, “that someone’s first experience immediately after being assaulted or when they are disclosing it, that if they’re treated with that trauma-informed, compassionate approach can really impact their healing journey.”
The funding is part of the VSAC’s multi-year action plan to help end gender-based violence being developed by the Ministry of Finance’s Gender Equity Office and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
The facilities and programming offered by the VSAC are crucial for addressing the needs of equity-deserving groups. According to a 2019 Canadian Victim Criminalization report, lesbian, gay, bisexual and younger people have a greater likelihood of being victimized.
Incusivity is key factor for survivors
Those who are most impacted by sexual violence in the CRD are disproportionately people facing the most systemic barriers to accessing health care: Indigenous and Two-spirit, trans, and PWUD (people who use drugs). In response to this reality, the provincial plan is also being guided by Indigenous partners and organizations.
“Service providers,” according to the report, “described specialized sexual assault services as safer for those accessing care, with `more sensitivity around the subject’ and greater awareness of promising practices in sexual assault response.”
For many who have experienced sexual assault, going to a hospital or a police station is problematic, either because of past or present traumas that may be related to cultural and lived experiences of judicial or medical systems so the option of low-barrier access to the services and programming they need is crucial.
For survivors, safe and culturally relevant care is important. The Indigenous Response Network, umbrellaed under the VSAC, brings together local Nations, Elders, partners, organizations and supports community led initiatives for Indigenous survivors.
For Indigenous adult survivors, it is important to pay attention to community and grassroots input in justice and healing.
This funding will also help people seeking services with VSAC who may have experienced an assault elsewhere. Even if a victim’s sexual assault occurred outside the city, the province, even the country but they are currently a local resident in the Greater Victoria area, the VSAC can connect and/or liaise for them with relevant downstream services such as free counselling and legal support.
Loppie added that “the funding allows us to put time and energy we would have spent fundraising back into supporting survivors and into our community.” That work extends to supporting capacity-building for other programs in the province as well.”
To reach the services access line at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre call 250-383-3232.
Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Capital Daily