$22 million in base funding for sexual assault survivor programs is a ‘huge deal,’ says director of service

Sexual Assault Support Programs welcomed the announcement in the British Columbia budget of $22 million in base funding for up to 50 such services across the province over the next next three years.

The province hasn’t said how it plans to allocate the funds allocated in Tuesday’s budget, but the finance ministry said the solicitor general will come up with a plan in the coming months.

“Working to support survivors of sexual assault means we must recognize the needs of experienced and compassionate community service providers who deserve stable annual funding to do their work,” the ministry said.

The Prince George Sexual Assault Centre’s chief executive, Lynnell Halikowski, said the government’s investment in such services across the province is a “huge deal”.

“It’s just essential to be able to provide consistent services in our community,” she said.

According to 2019 data from Statistics Canadasexual assault is one of the least reported crimes in the country — only about 5% of sexual assaults against women are reported to the police.

An estimated 4.7 million Canadian women have been sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15, and young people, sexual minorities, people with disabilities and Indigenous people are more likely to be victims of these crimes.

In 2002, the government of then Prime Minister Gordon Campbell cut core funding for sexual assault centres.

The new money is intended specifically for ongoing core funding, which keeps organizations like Halikowski’s afloat. Sexual assault intervention programs are often funded by grants, which Halikowski says are usually earmarked for specific projects.

“This will allow us to offer more guidance 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 BC has been advocating for increased funding for community-based sexual assault response programs for 20 years.

“We are delighted that at this point in history, supporting survivors and victims of sexual assault is being taken seriously,” said executive director Ninu Kang.

“That’s a big statement.”

The organization helped distribute $20 million in provincial grants starting in 2021 to aid sexual assault response services in British Columbia.

The Kamloops Sexual Assault Counseling Center is one of the centers that has benefited from this program, but it is due to run out in 2023, so the new funding has been a relief.

“We were so worried about having to go back to this location not being able to provide these services,” said agency coordinator Alix Dolson.