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There is a high cost to sexual assault

Editor’s note: This story is the second story in a continuing series and does cover sensitive topics.
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Sad woman after abuse crying under the water in the shower. (File photo)

Editor’s note: This story is the second story in a continuing series and does cover sensitive topics.

According to documents released by the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Centres (AASAC), the financial cost of sexual assault is just under $1.9 billion per year Canada-wide when costs to the health care, social services and justice systems are factored in.

Over the last four decades, seeing a problem, the Government of Alberta has invested financially into sexual assault support, going so far as to form a partnership with AASAC in 2004; however, by 2008 direct funding for these services remained at just $8 million.

On the heels of the “Me too” movement in the mid-2010s, the province did direct more funds towards the issue; by 2018 funding had more than doubled to $17 million with $13.8 million going to Community Social Services, $2.1 million going to health care, and an additional $1 million being spent in justice.

“Violent crimes are trending down, but sexual assault is increased,” said Stettler Association of Communities Against Abuse director Stephanie Hadley.

Hadley directs one of 15 sexual assault centres covering 38 communities in the province and feels that despite the increases, the funding doesn’t meet the needs.

“COVID-19 increased the degree of the crisis,” said Hadley, noting that during the pandemic victims were often in isolation with their abusers. “Particularly in rural Alberta.”

Those who do break away can develop addiction problems, suicidality, and homelessness.

At the beginning of 2023, AASAC presented a request for increased funding to the province.

In total, the proposal requested an additional $14.2 million of ongoing funding so that programs could be expanded and ever-growing wait lists could be shortened.

Around half, $6.5 million of the funding would be directed to increase “collaboration between ministries,” particularly Community and Social Services and Health care.

Another $3 million would be directed to sexual assault centres for the piloting, and implementation, of new core services and the reduction of wait times.

Around $1.4 million would go towards the sustainability of specialized police and court support services, while $105,000 would go to AASAC to develop online third-party sexual assault reporting software.

Finally, $3 million would go towards sexual assault centres and the expansion of their efforts in prevention education.

According to Hadley, the province denied the AASAC request, counter-offering one-fifth of the funding for a one-year term.

Hadley noted that the proposal was “completely unworkable” because by the time new counsellors were hired and prepared to take new patients on case-load, the centres and the clients would maybe get six months of therapy before the funding would be gone.

“It would be more harmful than being on a waitlist,” Hadley said.

In April, the premier’s office the Minister of Community and Social Services, Jeremy Nixon, announced that programs assisting sexual assault survivors would receive a $4.2 million funding increase.

The funds were earmarked for communities across the province, with the majority, $1.85 million going directly to programming in the Edmonton region. Other communities receiving funding include Calgary, Red Deer, Bonnyville, Stettler, Hinton, Lloydminster, Medicine Hat, and others.

“ACAA will use this much-needed increase in funding to address our growing wait list for counselling,” said Hadley, in response to the increase.

“Going forward, we will continue to work with the Alberta Government to ensure that all Albertans have timely access to sexual violence supports, preventive education and specialized treatment here in east central Alberta, and throughout the province.”

While the province provides the most significant portion of the funding which sexual assault services use to operate, Hadley says that there is some limited federal funding as well as regional community funding and donations from service groups which all contribute to available programming.