The Ontario government announced last week that they will be investing in new sexual violence support services in Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Island and Rideau Lakes.
According to a press announcement from MPP Steve Clark’s office, a $687,000 investment will support a mobile sexual assault centre for the next three years for female victims and survivors of sexual assault. The mobile centre will provide counselling, peer support, advocacy, and 24-hour crisis support by phone. The province is also providing up to four hours of free legal advice to survivors of sexual assault. MPP Clark’s office noted that this area historically has been under-served in regards to supports for victims of sexual violence.
Executive Director of Victim Services of Leeds and Grenville (VSLG), Sonya Jodoin, says this is a service that has been desperately needed in Leeds and Grenville for a long time. VSLG, along with several other community organizations, have been advocating for more support for victims of sexual violence in the area for the past ten years. “It’s really a huge need,” she says. “Sexual violence like historical sexual assault, sexual abuse, historical abuse have always been a huge piece of what we do, and I think that’s really what started the conversations many years ago about the lack of a sexual assault crisis centre in this region, and kind of what are our options are around that.”
The funding for a mobile sexual assault centre is the direct result of a proposal that VSLG sent to the provincial government. It was decided that the typical format of a sexual assault crisis centre, which is housed in one central location, wouldn’t work for Leeds and Grenville which has a large rural geographic area. “We realized that the centre would end up being based in Brockville, but then there are all the issues of accessibility, just in terms of transportation and being physically far away from people,” Sonya says.
The mobile sexual assault centre will allow counsellors to be spread across the region and travel to where they are needed most. Sonya says this funding will allow them to hire two new sexual assault counsellors, whose hours will be flexible to meet the needs of the community. They will also be hiring a part-time peer support worker, who will have personal experience with sexual violence. “There’s a ton of value for people who are looking for support and getting stable and their feet on the ground but may not be ready to start counselling,” she says. “Peer support can be a tremendous help.”
Councillors will be able to provide immediate support to victims of sexual violence and also link them up with other support services. One of VSLG’s partners in the project, the Assault Response & Care Centre of Leeds and Grenville in Brockville, has up to three masters level trauma counsellors and a part time peer support worker who will be able to help people referred by the mobile sexual assault centre.
Although the press release from the province stated that the mobile sexual assault centre will be focusing on women, Sonya says their goal is to support any victim of sexual violence, no matter their gender. “Our policy is that gender is irrelevant. It’s not a defining factor in terms of services,” she says. “So, we’ll make sure that there are still services available one way or the other, regardless.”
Sonya says this is terrific news for the whole region, but particularly North Grenville, which has been on their radar as a particularly under-served community. According to VSLG, Kemptville has a high volume of calls related to interpersonal violence, historical sexual abuse, spousal, child and elder abuse, for the size of its population. Sonya and Meagan Cumming, the CEO of the Kemptville Stress Relief Centre (KSRC), made a presentation to council in March 2019 outlining the need for more services in the community. Meagan, who has been a tireless advocate for victims of sexual violence for many years, says she is thrilled with the announcement that more services will soon be available in the community. KSRC will be partnering with VSLG to offer office space in Kemptville for the mobile sexual assault centre to use. “I cried happy tears when I got the news yesterday, and am still overwhelmed that our community will finally have the services it needs to support survivors,” she wrote in an email to the Times last week.
Mayor Nancy Peckford, who has been advocating for more sexual assault services in North Grenville since the VSLG presentation in 2019, wrote on Facebook that she is also thrilled with the funding announcement. “The impacts of sexual abuse/assault linger for decades and often lead to addiction, violence and other mental health issues,” she said. “Women and men, boys and girls, trans folks are all affected. Those who have suffered have the right to access appropriate support and healing in their community. It is a matter of fairness and justice. I am extremely grateful that our provincial government got the job done.”