Sexual assault support programs have welcomed the announcement in B.C.’s budget of $22 million in core funding for up to 50 such services across the province over the next three years.
The province hasn’t said how it plans to distribute the money allocated in Tuesday’s budget, but the Ministry of Finance said the solicitor general will come up with a plan in the months ahead.
“Work to support survivors of sexual assault means we must recognize the needs of experienced and compassionate community-based service providers who deserve stable annual funding to do their work,” the ministry said.
Prince George Sexual Assault Centre executive director Lynnell Halikowski said government investment in these services throughout the province is a “huge deal.”
“This is just critical to being able to provide consistent services in our community,” she said.
According to 2019 data from Statistics Canada, sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in the country — only about five per cent of sexual assaults experienced by women are reported to police.
An estimated 4.7 million Canadian women have been sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15, and young people, sexual minorites, people with disabilities and Indigenous people are more likely to be the victims of these crimes.
In 2002, the government of then-premier Gordon Campbell cut core funding for sexual assault centres.
The new money is meant specifically for ongoing core funding, which is what keeps organizations like Halikowski’s afloat. Sexual assault response programs are often funded instead by grants, which Halikowski said are usually meant for specific projects.
“This will allow us to … offer more counselling and wraparound support and advocacy,” Halikowski said, adding that the need for support for survivors has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
The Ending Violence Association of B.C. has been advocating for more funding for community-based sexual assault response programs for 20 years.
“We’re thrilled that at this point in history supporting survivors and victims of sexual assault is being taken seriously,” executive director Ninu Kang said.
“It’s a big statement.”
The organization has helped distribute $20 million in provincial grants starting in 2021 to assist with sexual assault response services in B.C.
The Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre is one of the centres that’s benefited from that program, but it is due to run out in 2023, so the new funding was a relief.
“We were just so worried that we would have to return to that place of not being able to provide those services,” agency co-ordinator Alix Dolson said.