York Region is joining a chorus of municipalities calling for more sustainable funding for community-based sexual assault centres.
The Women’s Support Network (WSN) of York Region told council members Jan. 12 that it is seeing an increased demand for its services without provincial funds rising in unison. It said funding has not increased since 2018, despite some provincial promises.
Regional council made a resolution calling for the province to increase funding for the WSN and other centres like it.
“Increased resources means more support for people experiencing sexual violence,” WSN board member Ogho Ikhalo said. “Less time waiting for counselling and timely access to prevention medication so that young people know their rights and remain safe.
“I can assure you that each of us here in this hall today knows someone who needs our resources,” she added.
The Newmarket-based organization provides counselling services, group programs and a crisis line for those who have experienced sexual violence.
The WSN offered evidence of sexual assault incidents on the rise, such as Statistics Canada documenting an 18 per cent increase in reports in Canada in 2021 over 2020. WSN added that it works with many individuals who choose not to report to the police, meaning there can be underreporting in official statistics.
The pandemic made things worse, with its impacts causing an increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, the organization said. Within the pandemic, it said it saw a 39 per cent increase in participants of its counselling service and a 68 per cent increase in calls and messages to its crisis line and online chat service.
But funding has not been increased consistently. Annualized increases were only in place from 2004 to 2008, with only sporadic increases since. The agency said a 2018 provincial Liberal government promised to increase funding by 30 per cent in the sector never manifested after the Conservatives were elected, and an increase in the 2021 budget for victim services has not gone toward community sexual assault centres.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said the work the centre does is important and meaningful.
“There’s no question this is an area of great need, and rapidly growing need, unfortunately,” he said, adding everyone knows someone who has been a victim of sexual violence. “The thought that someone, a woman in my close circle, a friend, a family member that I love couldn’t access everything they need to support them at that moment is beyond unthinkable.”
York Region is joining several other municipalities in calling for increased provincial funding in the last year, including Bracebridge, Waterloo, Kingston, Aurora, Georgina and Vaughan.