After three and a half decades, the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC)’s free, long-term counselling for survivors of sexualized violence is coming to an end.
During the pandemic, they’ve seen a substantial, steady increase in demand.
“We do know in more global and local stress, gender-based violence does increases,” said Elijah Zimmerman, executive director of VSAC. “The isolation of the pandemic, the uncertainty, can impact rates of sexualized violence. And it may also impact the rate of people who have had historical traumas, those people are more likely may be in crisis.”
In 2021, VSAC saw a record 1000 people seeking their help, which amounts to a 29 per cent increase from 2020.
And their long-term waitlist ballooned to 250 people who were projected to wait three to four years for services, which had a knock-on effect of pushing up the wait times for people in immediate crisis.
“We just knew that was something that wasn’t acceptable. When people are in crisis, they need support right away. So we are moving our resources to really support our crisis programming,” Zimmerman told CHEK News.
No longer able to meet the high need of its community as a non-profit, VSAC is being forced to end its long-term counselling program.
“This is a public health issue. The model that we have right now, doesn’t fully account for the need right now,” said Zimmerman.
And that has left some local politicians are outraged that as survivors start to feel socially supported in coming forward, there’s no public funding there to help them.
“Three years ago Saanich council and other municipalities within the Greater Victoria region asked the provincial government to provide ongoing funding for the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre,” said Ned Taylor, Saanich councillor. “I think those calls fell on deaf ears.”
In 2019, the provincial government did provide VSAC with a one time $200,000 grant, but Taylor says ongoing funding is what’s needed.
“We need more of these services, not less,” said Taylor. “These kind of services are the responsibility of the provincial government. And they’re critical services. It just feels like there’s a lack of care from the provincial government.”
Meanwhile, the issue of the ever-increasing unmet demand of sexualized violence survivors goes far beyond just Victoria.
“All of the programs that I know of are maxed out because of COVID,” said Dalya Israel, the executive director of Vancouver’s WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. “And it doesn’t stop.”
Since the early 2000’s, Israel says there’s been a ‘steady divestment in wraparound counselling services’ in B.C.
“At that time rape centres lost all their funding and a province-wide crisis line was opened which was going to be referring people to places that didn’t exist anymore,” Israel said. “Same with the hospitals, there were long term therapeutic programs at VGH and St. Paul’s that were outpatient for domestic violence, and those were closed down and referral social workers were put on the wards.”
“I think now we’re at this tipping point that it’s government and community responsibilities to show up for each other,” said Israel.
Back in Victoria, while disappointed in the change of service VSAC is still offering a 24/7 call-in clinic, crisis counselling, group counselling, and victims services to help navigate the justice system.