MEDICINE HAT – The Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC) in Medicine Hat is raising a red flag.
The organization, which specializes in helping victims of sexual assault, is said the number of people looking for help has skyrocketed.
SARC said it is struggling to meet the needs of victims in our community with 111 men, women and children currently on a wait list for one-on-one counselling and therapy.
The wait time for those services is estimated to nine months.
In just the first six months of this year, executive director Christina Johnson said there's been more people seeking their services than in the last two years combined.
“It takes a remarkable amount of courage to reach out for support and we’re really thankful that people are coming forward,” she said. “We don’t want them to stop, we are here for you regardless of what waitlists look like.”
SARC has had to prioritize funding to deal with the demands, shifting it away from outreach and education programs and towards counselling.
Johnson said campaigns like "I Believe You" and the "Me Too" movement have encouraged more victims of sexual assault to speak up and come forward.
“It's opened the door for people to actually tell their story, it's given permission,” Johnson explained.
“I'm a firm believer that we are not seeing an increase in the incidents of sexual assault, sexual abuse or sexual harassment occurring, we're actually seeing an increase in people telling.”
Last year, new counselling clients across the province increased by an average of 53 per cent from the year before.
In the 2013-2014 year there were 1,733 new counselling clients in Alberta. In the 2016-2017 year there were 3,510.
It’s estimated approximately 76,000 Albertans over the age of 15 experience sexual assault.
Wait lists and a lack of support services for victims are not unique to Medicine Hat. The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) is asking the province for increased funding to help deal with it.
Johnson said it's unacceptable to have victims of sexual assault and trauma wait when they ask for help.
"When people come forward and they are told they have a nine month wait for one-on-one service it can be a secondary betrayal. You told me you believed me, you told me you would help and now I have to wait," she said.
In the short term, SARC is going to be introducing more group counselling sessions to get more victims started on the road to recovery.
Johnson said they’d like to see increased funding to hire two additional counsellors to better help victims and decrease wait times for service.
AASAS is also encouraging Albertans to speak out about the need for more funding for sexual assault services.
The Government of Alberta is currently doing budget consultations and looking for feed back from the public. AASAS is encouraging people to provide feedback in support of funding for specialized sexual violence centres across the province.
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