Women’s groups call for trauma-specialized counselling funding

by Gayle Wilson

Non-profit organizations on the South Shore are ramping up calls for funding for trauma-specialized counselling services similar to what's available in other regions as part of an integrated sexual assault response funded by the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA).

While they say they're grateful that all regions in the province now have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program to help gather forensic evidence in assault cases, they argue there's still a lack of follow-through assistance for 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," a recent press release jointly issued by a number of women's support groups suggested.

Those supporting the call included representatives from the Second Story Women's Centre, Be the Peace Institute, Harbour House and South Shore Sexual Health.

"With the pandemic precautions for the past two 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," the release indicated.

"But to expect community-based organizations to meet the demand for not only immediate support, but specialized counseling, is unreasonable," the groups insisted.

Victims and survivors of intimate partner and sexualized violence often need skilled attention in order to prevent difficult and sustained post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they said.

"Personally, I have few to no places to refer people for counseling after a sexual assault," Julie Veinot, Executive Director and Sex Educator for South Shore Sexual Health, said in the release. "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," said Veinot.

The advocacy groups would like to see victims and survivors have access to services and specialists who are survivor-centred and trauma-informed. But they say currently community-based supports are facing a wait list due to high demand and limited resources.

Moreover, they note the public mental health system no longer sees people for counselling, but rather offers treatment once the person in need meets the criteria for services, such as if they have a PTSD diagnosis or are deemed to be in crisis.

"We currently have an ever-growing wait list for our counselling services which is not serving those in need in a timely manner," lamented 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," she added.

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