Is the federal government failing survivors of sexual assault?
Last month, the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre announced that after 36 years of service, it was being forced to terminate its 24-hour Crisis and Information Line due to funding constraints. The loss of this specialized crisis line, which has served the immediate needs of survivors of sexualized violence, will be sorely felt. In 2017 alone, the crisis line received over 1,800 calls.
Amidst financial uncertainty, VSAC is also threatened by the closure of its Sexual Assault Clinic.
The first of its kind in British Columbia, this innovative clinic has taken a holistic approach by shifting key services and support for survivors of sexual assault from the hospital and police station to one centralized location. The clinic gives survivors the option of having a multitude of services in one confidential and compassionate location, including medical and forensic exams, crisis support, police interviews and referrals to counselling and other community supports.
As our awareness of sexual assault and available services increases, due in part to social movements like #MeToo, so has the demand for these services. In fact, demand for the Sexual Assault Clinic has increased by a staggering 124 per cent over the last year or so.
Despite the clinic’s success, it receives no core, stable, predictable funding to cover their $120,000 yearly operating cost. This year, VSAC has a shortfall of $90,000; as mentioned above, it may have to close. At a time when so many survivors are courageously coming forward, and with a federal government claiming that it is committed to advancing gender equality, how is it that organizations like VSAC are unable to obtain core funding?
In response to the closure of VSAC’s Crisis and Information Line, I called on the government in the House of Commons to include stable, predictable, operating funding in the budget for rape crisis centres.
This problem of inadequate (or nonexistent) funding is not unique to Victoria. Rape crisis centres across the country are scraping by on a combination of short-term grants, project-specific funding and private donations. Less than half of VSAC’s funding comes from government contracts.
In an effort to assist VSAC to continue their important work, I have also written the Minister of Status of Women to request emergency funding, so that VSAC may reopen their crisis line and continue operating the clinic.
The Liberal government boasts that it has doubled funding for women’s organizations and rape crisis centres, but organizations like VSAC are simply not seeing those funds. As it stands, rape crisis centres are not sufficiently funded to meet the needs of survivors. In January, Justin Trudeau said, “It’s essential to start from a place of belief and support for anyone coming forward with stories or allegations of harassment or assault.” That’s not enough.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I have heard first-hand about sexual violence and exploitation in Canada. Recently, we completed a cross-Canada tour to learn about the very real existence of human trafficking and its often devastating impact on survivors.
While this horrific crime is certainly different from sexual assault and other acts of sexual violence, the importance of front-line organizations like VSAC has been forcefully brought home to me. The need to help those who need reliable, compassionate and professional care is painfully clear.
These services are not optional. It is our collective responsibility as a community to ensure appropriate supports are there when people need them most. I will continue pressuring the federal government to match its rhetoric with concrete action, in the case of the VSAC and across the country.
Murray Rankin is member of parliament for the Victoria riding.