National Survey Finds Increased Demand & Wait Times for Vast Majority of Sexual Violence Organizations During Pandemic

Press Release

OTTAWA, May 24, 2023 – As sexual assault centres and other organizations providing services to sexual violence survivors contend with increasing pressures while victims struggle to access timely support, preliminary findings of a national survey illustrate the challenges frontline organizations are experiencing in trying to meet growing demands for their services.  The situation is further exacerbated by the end of emergency COVID funding across the gender-based violence sector, including for sexual assault centres and domestic violence shelters.

The first of its kind, the survey of over 100 sexual violence organizations (SVOs) was conducted by the Ending Violence Association of Canada (EVA Canada).  The results revealed new insights from sexual assault centres, rape crisis lines, and other providers of survivor support about their struggle under the weight of increased demands arising from the pandemic and the #MeToo movement, which prompted more people to come forward and report incidents of sexual violence.

Key findings from this landmark survey include:

  • A full 83 per cent of SVOs reported increased or consistently high demand for sexual violence support services compared to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Seventy-six per cent of SVOs reported increased or consistently high wait times, resulting in even longer delays to access services than before COVID-19. The longest wait times were for individual and group counselling, with reported waits of six months to a year or longer.
  • The deepening complexity of underlying factors that compound the impact of sexualized violence may be contributing to these increases, including lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poor health, deteriorating mental well-being and increasing addictions.

The survey also found that COVID-19 impacted employee health and the human resources capacity of sexual violence organizations (SVOs):

  • Forty-six per cent of organizations reported staff taking medical leave for pandemic-related reasons such as stress, burnout, and illness.
  • Fifty-four per cent reported facing increased challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified staff.
  • Nearly 18 per cent had staff who retired early or left the workforce altogether during COVID-19.

Highlighting the impact of low wages and vicarious trauma on staff, one organization stated:

“Since the pandemic, there’s been high transition in front-line crisis staff and counsellors.  They’re leaving non-profit positions for those which can offer a higher wage.  Also, working in the field of sexual violence has a high risk of vicarious trauma.  Staff left positions for ‘less stressful’ work or to take time away.”

Although 83 per cent of organizations reported receiving emergency funding, helping them to keep their doors open and pivot to providing virtual services during the pandemic, respondents also described the stress of grappling with the chronic under-resourcing:

“As a local sexual assault centre we’re deeply underfunded and under-resourced.  We haven’t received any type of permanent increase in years and don’t receive cost of living increases.  We do so much with so little.”

“We’ve had low turnover but our funding envelopes from provincial funders have not kept pace with demand for our services or rising economic costs.  We are grossly underpaid considering the complex work we do.”

“The results of this landmark survey illustrate the current state of sexual violence services and organizations in Canada, exposing pre-existing funding shortfalls made even more urgent by the stresses of COVID-19,” said Erin Whitmore, Executive Director of the Ending Violence Association of Canada.

“Local sexual assault centres play a key role in responding to sexualized violence, but without long-term funding post-pandemic they can’t reach underserved communities and meet the intense demand,” she said.  “This is really concerning since emergency funding from COVID will end soon.”

“Most importantly, we need ongoing stable resourcing in Canada to move the needle towards preventing sexual violence in the first place, not only responding after it occurs,” stressed Whitmore.

The survey found major inequities in access to specialized services, particularly for those living in northern territories and rural locations.  It also revealed that current models of support services are not always responsive to the ongoing systemic challenges faced by Indigenous, Black and racialized survivors, as well as newcomers, survivors with disabilities, plus trans and non-binary survivors.

Long wait times jeopardize the window of opportunity for treatment, as survivors who must endure a prolonged hold on a waitlist may no longer be ready for support when they finally get the call to be seen.

Sexual violence is any sexual act committed against the will of another person.  It includes but is not limited to sexual assault and abuse, rape, sexual harassment, sexual coercion, sex trafficking, and technology-facilitated sexual harm.

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The Ending Violence Association of Canada (EVA Canada) is a national organization that works to amplify the collective voice of those who believe it is possible to end gender-based violence. Our membership includes provincial and territorial networks of sexual assault centres and other gender-based violence organizations from across the country.

For more information, please contact: media@endingviolencecanada.org

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