News

Halifax Sexual Assault Centre Turning People Away for First Time in 23 Years

An increase in people seeking counselling has overwhelmed the city’s only sexual assault centre.

by Hilary Beaumont
Apr 16 2019, 12:55pm

Avalon counselling coordinator Glenda Haydon. Screencap via YouTube

A huge increase in people seeking counselling for sexual assault is forcing Halifax’s only sexual assault centre to turn people away for the first time in 23 years.

“The number of people seeking service has been growing faster than the centre has been able to grow,” said Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, in a press release Monday.

Avalon provides counselling for both recent and historic sexual assault trauma. Some people have been waiting two years for counselling, Stevens said.

“Sexual assault centres across the country have been reporting the same dilemma,” she said.

For instance, the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre now has a 15-month waitlist and 10,000 people call their crisis line each year. Nicole Pietsch, head of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, told CBC these numbers are “unprecedented.”

Sexual assault is a historically under-reported crime. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there’s been a cultural shift in how we talk about sexual assault in Canada and the US, and an uptick in reporting to police.

According to a November 2018 Juristat report, there were more police-reported sexual assaults in Canada in 2017 than in any year since 1998.

In 2017, the number of victims reporting to police in Canada peaked in October, coinciding with the #MeToo movement, the report found.

“As was the case before #MeToo, the majority of sexual assaults reported to police after #MeToo had taken place recently.” An increase in reports of historical sexual assault was also noted.

“The increase in new clients shows that Avalon’s therapeutic counselling model is successful and needed,” Stevens said in the release.

But she hinted that the centre needs more funding.

“We also see that we need to continue to work with funders and community partners to find longer term solutions, to ensure all survivors of sexualized violence and abuse have access to therapeutic counselling and other specialized services.”

Avalon’s funding has nearly doubled since 2017, according to its latest annual report.

The total income for 2018 was $1.1 million compared to $672,000 in 2017. The most notable increases were $431,761 from the provincial government’s health authority, a second year of funding from the province’s Community Support Network Grant, and nearly $100,000 from donations and fundraising.

Evidently, it’s not enough.

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