For provincial audiences
May 25, 2020
For the past 2 years, four non-profit organizations on the South Shore have been requesting and advocating for funded trauma-specialized counseling services on the South Shore similar to what is available in other regions as part of an integrated sexual assault response funded by NSHA. Fortunately, all regions in the province now have a SANE program- specially trained nurses to gather forensic evidence after a sexual assault, thanks to years of advocacy efforts and the recent provision of government funding through Dept of Health and Wellness. But the lack of funded counselling in the wake of sexual violence is concerning to non-profit organizations on the South Shore that work with victims and survivors.
In the past few years, the public mental health system has stopped offering counselling to people who have survived sexual violence unless they meet specific criteria for Mental Health and Addictions. In return, the public system often refers victims to non-profit services—which are now overworked and unable to meet the increased demand because there has not been a meaningful increase in funds to provide these services.
With the pandemic precautions for the past 2 months, conditions of social isolation, the most powerful weapon for violence in the home, have intensified the danger for women, children and gender oppressed people at home with an abusive person. We fully expect a flood of referrals once the restrictions are lifted and women once again have windows of opportunity to seek help. But to expect community-based organizations to meet the demand for not only immediate support, but specialized counseling, is unreasonable.
Victims and survivors of intimate partner and sexualized violence often need skilled attention in order to prevent the much more difficult and sustained post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can result from sexual assault or ongoing abuse. Many people also experience ill effects from historic trauma including childhood sexual abuse and require support and counselling to survive and thrive. Some estimates put the number of people with PTSD who have survived sexual violence at about 50 per cent.
“Personally, I have few to no places to refer people for counseling after a sexual assault,” says Julie Veinot, Executive Director and Sex Educator for South Shore Sexual Health. “Victims’ only hope is that they have the financial resources or private insurance to access counselling on their own. We shouldn’t have a two-tier system when it comes to counselling. It’s cruel to allow people to suffer when we know sexual violence is so prevalent, especially among vulnerable folks who may have limited resources like those with disabilities.”
Ideally, victims and survivors should have access to services and specialists who are survivor- centred and trauma-informed. Any community-based supports are facing a waitlist due to high demand and limited resources. There simply aren’t enough community resources to compensate for the number of referrals coming from the public mental health system, which no longer sees people for counselling—but instead only offers treatment once they meet the criteria for services (e.g. when they have a PTSD diagnosis or are deemed to be in crisis).
“We currently have an ever-growing waitlist for our counselling services which is not serving those in need in a timely manner,” says Rhonda Lemire, Executive Director of Second Story Women’s Centre, which offers services to women and gender-oppressed individuals in Lunenburg and Queens Counties. “It is unethical for those who have been subjected to sexual violence to wait for weeks or months to access essential counselling.”
Second Story Women’s Centre recently began a campaign to get people to sign postcards to Health Minister Randy Delorey calling for more therapist services for victims and survivors. They asked attendees of their recent performances of The Vagina Monologues to sign the cards and received 187 signatures. There’s still time for action! You can sign a virtual postcard at www.secondstory.ca/take-action.
We are calling on the provincial government to increase funding for specialized, trauma- informed mental health counselors for survivors of abuse and sexual assault, with devoted funding for at least two trauma-specialized therapists per region. Now that most Nova Scotians have access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs, it is time to attend to the mental health needs of victims and survivors.
Evidence from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests, “Sexual assault is a potentially traumatic experience that may have a variety of negative consequences on women’s mental, physical, sexual and reproductive health, which may require acute and, at times, long- term…mental health care.” “Trauma specialized mental health care is an essential service if we are to minimize the significant individual, social and economic costs of the scourge of gender- based violence,” says Sue Bookchin of Be the Peace Institute