As demand for specialized support services for sexual assault victims rises in Alberta, service providers are calling on the government for increased funding. The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) is working to get an increase of $14 million annually to spread across the province. It would help decrease counselling wait times, address complex needs of survivors with justice system support and provide school and community based prevention programs.
“When we receive the $14 million, an individual who has experienced sexual violence will be able to access counseling services at the time that they call in, which is so important for their healing process,” said Lisa Lewis, director of counseling, outreach and education at Lethbridge Family Services. “It takes typically anywhere from six months to a year for someone to get the courage to call the counselling services — when they do finally call, we need to be there to actively support them and that would decrease the complex mental health issues that we are seeing and also decrease some of the social issues that are as a result of sexual violence.”
Lethbridge Family Services is a member agency of AASAS, and Lewis says the request for funding was presented to government officials seven months ago, along with supporting information — but no formal funding has been offered.
Lewis said wait times for counselling services in Lethbridge can range from four weeks to five months, depending on factors such as complexity of needs. Demand for services continues to rise and AASAS said 43 per cent of Albertans have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
“We don’t believe that no one hasn’t been impacted by sexual violence,” Lewis said. “Everyone knows either a family member, a colleague, a peer, a neighbor, that has in some way been impacted by sexual violence but those that may not have direct knowledge around sexual violence and its impact, we need you to know that this is a very real experience that happens that this is so heartbreaking to families and individuals when this does happen.”
The province has informally offered a quarter of the $14 million as one time funding, which Lewis said will not make a significant impact.
“People are starting to have the courage to come forward. They are coming forward and they are being met with large wait times, very little services when it comes to justice supports, as well as education and prevention work. We need this $14 million,” she said.