This photo shows the interior of a medical examination room at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC), which runs a clinic, where victims of sexual assault in Greater Victoria receive a number of services including medical exams, forensic tests and crisis support in one central location. (Submitted/VSAC)

Victoria Sexual Assault Centre looks for new financial model

Spokesperson says organization stands at the “edge of uncertainty”

A clinic supporting survivors of sexual assaults faces an uncertain future, as it searches for a new funding model.

“We try to make sure that we are open this year, as we work towards finding sustainable and predictable funding,” said Grace Lore, a spokesperson for the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC), which has operated at various locations since 1982.

Since 2016 the centre has been running an integrated clinic where victims of sexual assault receive a number of services including medical exams, forensic tests and crisis support in one central location. Police detachments across the region including Saanich Police have used the clinic in the 3000-block of Cedar Hill Road to interview survivors.

About one in four (26 per cent) supported survivors lived in Saanich, and 36 per cent of all room bookings for police statements or interviews for sexual assaults involve Saanich Police files. “In 2017-2018, we responded to 137 sexual assaults,” said Lore.

Startup funding came from a provincial grant of $100,000 over two years. “That grant did not come with any funding to ensure operation in subsequent years,” she said. The current funding model relies on grants and donations, a model not “feasible for survival,” said Lore.

“We need to move away from this model,” she said. “We are living on the edge of uncertainty,” she added later. This uncertainty has already affected other services. Last year, the centre closed the crisis line it had maintained for 30 years to keep the clinic open.

The organization, meanwhile, continues to secure grants from any number of sources, including municipalities around the region, to keep the clinic operating. Lore said this year’s operating budget is at least $204,000, a figure that could go up.

Last month, Saanich council granted the organization a one-time grant of $35,000 — $20,000 less than the requested amount — as part of Saanich’s 2019 municipal budget.

“We are really thrilled to have the support of the District,” said Lore. Saanich had previously rejected two earlier requests for support, she said.

RELATED: Saanich budget brings 5.37 per cent tax increase

Council granted the money last month following deliberations during which councillors praised the contributions of the centre and its clinic, while also trying to send the message that Saanich cannot be, in the words of Coun. Karen Harper, a “long-term funder.”

Saanich is helping the organization during a rough spot, but not necessarily beyond, said Harper. “This is downloading from the province,” she said. “This is a service that should be funded by the province.”

Coun. Rebecca Mersereau agreed. She said the centre helps victims of sexual assault receive adequate support thanks to an “integrative approach” that also cuts costs and create efficiency.

“The facility and the expertise we have acquired in the region [through the clinic] is a huge asset for the region,” said Mersereau. “I would hate to see that disappear. I think that is a very real risk at this juncture. On the other hand, I think it is exceptionally irresponsible for the province to provide initial funding to open the facility, without concern for its long-term integrity. So I don’t want us to get into the habit of perpetually funding services which are largely in the province’s purview.”

Coun. Judy Brownoff agreed. While Saanich’s grant will shore up the finances of the centre, it represents a small amount. “The province needs to be at this table,” she said.

The public also heard from Coun. Zac de Vries, who argued Saanich’s decision could spur the province into action. Regardless of the final number, Saanich should also send a letter to provincial authorities, reminding them about the importance for long-term funding for the facility.

Coun. Nathalie Chambers sounded open to fulfill the full request.

She said it is “really great for us to envision” that the province would take on this file, something it would do in an “ideal world.” The reality, however, differs, she said. “Sexual crimes are up. This is a major service.”

Chambers later joined Coun. Susan Brice, Brownoff and Mersereau in voting against granting the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission $35,000 — $10,000 more than what the group had received earlier.

“I am wondering why are we increasing funds for this particular organization, and we are not giving the sexual assault centre a raise when clearly this [the commission] is [a] business, and clearly that [the sexual assault centre] is non-profit,” she said during discussions. “I’m just a bit curious about that.”

Mayor Fred Haynes responded by saying that the sexual assault centre had never received financial support before, and that all grant recipients, including the commission, must be non-profit organizations to receive support.

The centre also secured grant funding from Central Saanich, Langford and View Royal. It has also applied for $70,000 from Victoria, which had funded the centre in the past to the tune of $40,000.

As of the mid-March, the centre had pending grant applications with a total value of at least $100,000 before various funding authorities.


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