News / Edmonton

'Tears of relief': Alberta sexual assault centres get $8.1 million funding boost

New funds aim to cut rising wait times for counseling from several months down to two weeks

Mary Jane James is the Executive Director of SACE.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Mary Jane James is the Executive Director of SACE.

New funds to help sexual assault survivors will target counseling wait times in Alberta.

Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean announced $8.1 million for the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services Wednesday, with hopes of cutting wait times down to two weeks.

Some sexual assault centres in Alberta have reported waiting lists up to nine months long.

“We are taking action so that we no longer have to tell a survivor that it will be months before they can get help,” McLean said.  

Mary Jane James, Executive Director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, told Metro in December that her centre's waiting lists were at an all-time high, climbing to eight months after a spike in survivors coming forward that coincided with the #MeToo movement.

James said she “burst out crying” when she heard about the new funding.

“They were tears of relief, joy and gratitude for the hundreds of individuals who call our offices on a daily basis looking for the help and support that they need to heal the horrific trauma of sexual violence,” James said.

Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, said organizations across the province saw a 53 per cent increase in new clients from 2016-2017.

She said the increase is due to more reporting, rather than a spike in new sexual assaults.

“This is a national crisis,” Tomlinson said.

Edmonton Police Service Staff Sgt. Christa Pennie said police have noted a 7.4 per cent increase in sexual assault reports so far this year, and close to 30 per cent of those are historical sexual assaults that took place a year ago or longer, dating all the way back to the 1970s.

EPS recorded a 9.2 per cent increase in sexual assault reports last year, with about one-third of them being historical.

RCMP Insp. Adrian Marsden said the funds will help survivors feel safe and supported if they choose to report to police.

The RCMP reviewed their sexual assault investigation practices last year and are gearing up to implement new sexual assault training curriculum that reflects diverse communities, as well as stronger victim support protocols and a best practices guide.

“We know that a bad experience with a police investigator can bring more trauma to victims and discourage others from reporting these crimes,” Marsden said.

Of the $8.1 million announced Wednesday, $6.2 million will come from Community and Social Services for increased counseling, outreach and education services, and to develop a community response model targeting seven underserved regions in Alberta.

Part of that funding will go to a new phone line survivors can call or text from anywhere in the province.

Another $1.1 million will come from Justice and Solicitor General to enhance police and court support services, and $750,000 will come from the Health ministry for specialized counseling and expanded services.

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