TORONTO — The Ontario government will not provide cash-strapped rape crisis centres with any additional funding this year, despite a spike in demand from sexual assault victims in need of help.
The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres was informed by the Ministry of the Attorney General late last week that the one-time funding bump of $1 million provided in 2019 to 42 centres would not continue, coalition coordinator Nicole Pietsch told HuffPost Canada.
That means their total annual funding is back to $14.8 million, despite a promise by the previous Liberal government to implement a permanent 33 per cent increase. It would’ve been the first significant funding boost in years.
Sexual assault survivors are already waiting more than six months for counselling in cities such as Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara and Waterloo, Pietsch said.
“That becomes very arduous for survivors reaching out for the first time and hoping to speak to someone,” she said. “Sexual violence survivors are often forced to turn to more costly services such as emergency rooms or family doctors.
“It’s our position nobody should have to wait for services.”
Watch: She wanted answers from the man who raped her. Here’s how she got them.
Demand is only increasing, Pietsch said. In 2009, 30,000 calls from survivors or their families and friends were made to the crisis line. The coalition estimates it received more than 50,000 last year, and helped 17,000 survivors.
Police are also receiving more sexual assault reports. From 2016 to 2017, sexual assaults in Ontario increased by almost 19 per cent, from 7,434 to 8,782 reports, according to Statistics Canada.
Ministry spokesperson Jenessa Crognali said the one-time funding increase was added to “support sexual assault centres in the wake of the unfunded promises made by the Liberals.
“Victim service organizations across Ontario do important and valuable work in their communities. Our government will continue to engage with these important partners to make it easier for victims of crime and their families to get the help they need when and where they need it.”
Ontario rape crisis centres are used to “one-time” stop gap measures by previous governments, which have then gone on to continue the funding as demand increases, said Pietsch. In 2011, for example, the Ministry of the Attorney General temporarily increased funding by $750,000 under the Sexual Violence Action Plan. That funding became permanent in 2015.
The extra $1 million in 2019 enabled rape crisis centres to hire counsellors and offer more programs like survivor support groups and walk-in services that play an important role alongside mental health and addiction services across the province, said the coalition in a statement.
In the last year, wait times dropped from 18 to six months at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. In Kingston, 40 more survivors received counselling. And the centre serving Timminis and the surrounding area hired a part-time counsellor to reach sexual violence survivors in remote communities.
Muskoka-Parry Sound Sexual Assault Centre served 65 women with a 12-week psycho-educational group. Without the additional funding, this centre’s wait times for counselling will be more than a year. The Halton Region will lose a counsellor working with 60 survivors one-on-one, plus a group program with 20 participants. Wait times for counselling will increase from five to 10 months.
“We’ve seen a lack of investment from this particular government around sexual violence services,” Pietsch said, pointing to Doug Ford’s government ending Ontario’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which provided financial support to victims of crimes, and capped payments at $5,000.
“We are well aware that sexual violence takes a significant economic and human toll on everything —from our economy to our criminal justice sector, to our health-care system, to the safety of those in our communities.”
UPDATE — March 4, 2020: This story was updated to include the response from the Ministry of the Attorney General.