Seeking help for sexual assault is a decision that does not come easily. So what happens when a victim takes the necessary steps, only to find out the resources they desperately need aren’t available?
Resources for victims are becoming scarcer, and lengthy wait times force survivors to cope on their own for months before they finally get the assistance they need, if at all.
One such program plagued by challenges providing the necessary services needed is Hope 24.7 Sexual Assault Centre, a resource for victims of sexual assault living in Peel Region.
At present, the wait times for appointments at the centre are up to nine months, with appointments being scheduled in advance as far as January 2018. The wait list for counselling sessions currently holds 132 names.
Hope 24/7 has announced that it will be cutting a large chunk of its staff, and will also be closing on Fridays, for the first time in 23 years.
According to Laura Zilney, the executive director of the centre, the staff are overworked, the wait times are lengthier than they have ever been before, and there is a disparity between funding and need for the services Hope 24/7 provides.
The demand for services has increased, as well as the local population, but the funding received from the Ministry of the Attorney General is not enough. As of 2015, after a seven percent funding increase, they were given $459,000 in monetary support, which is the sixth-highest sum received of all forty-two centres in Ontario.
However, Zilney pointed out in a Toronto Star article that this funding works out to thirty-four cents per capita, the second lowest in the province, because Hope 24/7 provides services to approximately 1.4 million people, across Brampton, Mississauga, and Caledon.
Jaipaul Massey-Singh, president of the Hope 24/7 board, told the Toronto Star that, “The reality is that given the vast geography of what constitutes Peel, we really should be expanding, we should be multi-location, we should be able to reach out to more individuals and yet we are always struggling.”
“Unless [the province] is prepared to step up in a meaningful way we are really in a situation where we are going to fail our community,” Massey-Singh told The Star
The funding is also meant to prioritize female-born victims sixteen and over. If provisions were increased to $1 per capita – or $1.4 million in funding. Hope 24/7 could expand beyond their work and do more in way of prevention and outreach. It would also extend their reach to younger children and youth across the gender spectrum.
Hope 24/7 has many programs in place, like a partnership with Psychotherapy Matters to provide easier access to provincial psychiatrists. They also offer emergency sessions and referrals to the Victim Quick Response Program in situations that require emergency, short-term sessions.
While effective structures are in place, the lack of funding prevents the centre from efficiently moving survivors off the waitlist and into the necessary services.
The long wait times also proves a danger to victims in need of help. Being told that a counselling session is not available for several months can deter them from returning.
The Bramptonist spoke to a woman who sought out Hope 24/7 services, who recounted her brief experience at the centre but asked to remain anonymous.
“When I talked to them, the staff were very kind, but they were so busy. And I was told I wouldn’t be able to get a session within the next month or even six months. They were really apologetic, but I was just so surprised. And the idea of going on the waitlist wasn’t appealing,” she explained, adding that she’d gone to Hope 24/7 as a result of suffering from numerous panic attacks, as well as seeing a decline in her grades.
It took her over a month to make the decision to seek help after she was sexually assaulted by another attendee at a party while away for school.
“It was so hard to take that step, and then to not see anything come of it — I don’t know, I just didn’t know what to think. I haven’t gone to any other centre or counsellor since. I don’t know if I can. But I’m not okay either. I…I don’t know.”
She expressed her hope that sexual assault survivors would be given more support by the government, through financial backing and community resources.
“My decision to get help doesn’t matter, if the help isn’t there and available.”