Sexual Violence

Sexual violence network warns of service gaps for marginalized communities

The Sexual Assault Services Network of Nova Scotia addressed MLAs on Tuesday

From left to right, Jackie Stephens and Georgia Barnwell of the Sexual Assault Services Network. Natalie Downey and Sarah Granke of the Community Services Department.   Lama El Azrak

A representative of the Sexual Assault Services Network of Nova Scotia says the province needs to make an investment of at least $2 million yearly to improve sexual assault services.

Georgia Barnwell, co-ordinator of Women’s Centres Connect, read a statement by the network at the legislature Standing Committee of Community Services meeting on Tuesday. She said there are long-standing gaps in sexual violence services for rural communities and marginalized groups.

The Sexual Assault Services Network of Nova Scotia is made up of women’s organizations and anti-violence groups including the Women’s Centres Connect.

Barnwell told MLAs that many areas enhanced their sexual violence services after the implementation of the Sexual Violence Strategy. However, there are still very few services and many people are on wait-lists, she said. She added that rural centres experience a challenge to deal with the capacity.

“There is a gap … in resources and capacity,” she told committee members.

Barnwell also said sexual violence is a complex issue and is often accompanied by other issues, like inadequate income, poor education and family violence.

The network is asking the government to build on core services that are culturally specific and available to all Nova Scotians. An example of this is Indigenous cultural healing practices and ceremonies.

Barnwell said that the Sexual Violence Strategy focused more on short-term prevention projects and has ignored the need for long-term specialized sexual assault services.

The Sexual Violence Strategy launched in 2015 with a commitment of $6 million, but it ended in March. The strategy aimed to build on existing community support networks, expand the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner or SANE Program, fund existing sexual assault centres and address the needs of victims of sexual violence.

“There’s still lots of work to do,” said Sarah Granke, a provincial specialist who’s responsible for implementing the strategy.

During the meeting, Natalie Downey, the director of Prevention and Early Intervention in the Community Services Department, said that strategies come and go, but there’s still a commitment to preventing sexual violence. She said the government will continue funding the work that resulted from the strategy, but the exact amount will depend on an evaluation.

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