05/03/2013 12:28 EDT | Updated 07/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia announces funding in effort to help victims of sexual violence

HALIFAX - The executive director of a Nova Scotia outreach group for sex workers said a two-year funding commitment from the province to help communities address sexual violence is a positive step, but such money is needed over a longer period of time in order to be effective.

Rene Ross of Halifax-based Stepping Stone welcomed the $900,000 funding announcement Thursday, but added that organizations such as hers constantly have to fight with the provincial government to get the support necessary to help victims of violence.

Ross said sexual assault has been ignored for too long in Nova Scotia.

"We need to stop having public shame, global shame as being a pinnacle for action on sexual assault awareness," Ross said.

Marilyn More, the minister responsible for the status of women, said the funding includes $700,000 to help develop services for victims and $200,000 in grants to organizations that deal with sexual violence.

Premier Darrell Dexter, who also attended the funding announcement in Halifax, said the government has heard the public's call for action following the death of Rehtaeh Parsons. The 17-year-old girl took her own life last month, which her family says came after she was sexually assaulted and a digital photograph of the incident was shared around her school.

"For too long, the issues of sexual violence and bullying have been swept under the rug," said Dexter.

"Recent events have made it clear that the status quo is not an option. We can and must do more."

Earlier this week, the government announced it was creating a $100,000 emergency fund to help support organizations dealing with sexual assault.

An additional $100,000 in funding was also given to the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in response to a surge in demand at the Halifax facility in the last month.

Executive director Irene Smith applauded the government help, saying Rehtaeh's case has increased the public's understanding about the complexity and prevalence of sexualized violence in the province.

"As a community, we have to move from despair to hope," Smith said. "To the provincial government, I simply say, 'Do not let us down.'"