Hamilton joining call for Ford to better support sexual violence survivors

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Published September 22, 2022 at 4:49 pm

Elected officials in Hamilton are open to endorsing a resolution calling on Premier Doug Ford and the province to increase funding to sexual assault crisis centres.

Thursday, a city council committee heard that SACHA (Sexual Assault Centre — Hamilton Area), which is the lone such crisis centre locally, has a nine-month waitlist for counselling. That is the second-longest in its nearly half-century history of advocating for and directly supporting survivors of recent or historical sexual violence.


Over half of such centres across Ontario have reported an increased need for supports during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020. Sarah Adjekum of SACHA said that was “consistent” with what has happened locally, and director Jessica Bonilla-Damptey said there were “dramatic increases in the number and length of calls.” For instance, SACHA logged about 24 per cent more calls in 2020-21, the first full reporting period with COVID-19, than did in 2018-19.

The previous Liberal government promised a more than 30-per-cent increase to rape crisis centres before it was defeated electorally in 2018. Ford and the Ontario PC Party dissolved Ontario’s Provincial Roundtable on Violence Against Women months after forming government. A short while later, it increased funding to rape crisis centres by $1 million — to be split 42 ways. That increase has yet to be budgeted, and Polimeter considers all that to be a “broken promise.”

“The backtracking in provincial funding has severely constrained our ability to provide services,” Adjekum said. “Any kind of increase goes directly to survivor support.”

The emergency and community services committee voted 3-0 in support of a motion from Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann to support a resolution pushing the province to increase funding to SACHA and its counterparts. It was seconded by Ward 7 Coun. Esther Pauls, with Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark also lending support.

Bracebridge, Waterloo Region and Kingston have all passed similar motions. If the full council passes the motion, Hamilton would write to Premier Ford and Childen, Community and Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton to advocate for the 30-per-cent increase in base funding. All Hamilton-area members of provincial parliament and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario would be copied on the letter.

The Social Services ministry provides SACHA with about $500,000 in funding annual that goes toward covering a staff of 10 people, two of whom are part-time. According to province’s own accounting, the government underspent its Social Services budget by $800 million in the last fiscal year.

SACHA is also supported by the local United Way chapter, and often has to fundraise to help provide support. It was pointed out to the councillors that fundraising takes away from the time that SACHA has to devote to people in need.

“I agree with you that doing any kind of fundraiser is a task, so I hope one day you will have full funding,” Pauls said to Adjekum.

Bonilla-Damptey noted that SACHA has clients who have been waiting for in-person services since prior to the start of the pandemic over 2½ years ago. The centre is a few weeks away from resuming in-person services, and anticipates that there are survivors who have been waiting for that, since their living situation might not allow them the space for a confidential phone or video call.

“When services aren’t provided, survivors are forced to turn into costlier alternatives, such as hospitals and emergency rooms,” Bonilla-Damptey told the committee. “And we know not all survivors can afford to pay for private practice.

“Sexual violence takes a human and economic toll on everything, from our economy, to our criminal justice system, to our healthcare system, to the safety and well-being of those in our community.”

It is believed that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Individuals who are trans and non-binary also experience it higher rates.

Last week, more than 800 people participated in a Take Back The Night march in Hamilton. A Survivors First flag was also flown at city hall.

Resources

Articles about sexual assault, gendered violence and/or intimate partner violence can be triggering for survivors. There are a number of resources in Hamilton and the surrounding area that support survivors:

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