While Sexual Assault Awareness Week in Saskatchewan is designed to bring attention to the plight of those in our community who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse, Amber Stewart of the Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre (BASAC) believes the time is also ripe to make the community aware that due to funding shortfalls there could be serious cuts to programs in the near future.
“Cutting programs and services to areas that desperately need it is not what we (BASAC) want to do,” the executive director said. “However we are left with no other choice if the province doesn’t increase funding to our organization.”
Like other agencies throughout the province, the Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre provides services that deal with the effects and the risks of sexual abuse and violence by assisting with counselling, crisis support, education and advocacy services to individual and communities.
“We have been put in a very difficult position by the province because BASAC has not had an increase in funding for the past six years and because our funding is allotted in three year increments, we face another three years of status quo,” Stewart added. “I have relayed that message to the Ministry of Justice and told them that if things did not change by June 30, we would not be able to provide services to Meadow Lake, Île-à-la-Crosse and those areas.”
Stewart said the numbers for sexual assault in Canada and in particular in Saskatchewan, are staggering which gives her cause for concern as the agency prepares for possible cuts in service.
“I recently read a study that ranked the most dangerous Canadian cities for women to live in Canada and North Battleford and La Loche, both of which is in our service area, made the top five,” she said. “Sadly, La Loche will be an area that we will no longer be able to visit due to these cutbacks.”
She said clients often come from great distances to access the services that BASAC offer at the North Battleford location including some who drive from places like Patuanak.
“The unfortunate part of this lack of funding increase is that most of our referrals right now are for children under 16,” she said. “We are the only service there is for them and now we have to say that we are not able to take new referrals, and it hurts us a lot.”
Other services that may have to be eliminated include the 24-hour crisis line and after hours hospital accompaniment.
“These cuts fall square on the lap of the Ministry of Justice who holds the mandate to provide sexual assault services to the province,” Stewart added. “They want us to provide the service but won’t help us with an increase in funding.”
Stewart also fear that BASAC’s very popular Prevention Education component in schools and communities could be jeopardized as well directly affecting children, who are the most vulnerable to abuse.
“We really believe in this program we provide to the youth of our community,” she added. “We are currently in six Battlefords schools and have been in Edam, Medstead and Cut Knife talking about sexual violence, sexual harassment, boundaries and healthy relationships.”
She said the Prevention Education outreach worker has also been visiting kindergartens, daycares, and preschools teaching the very young when to find a trusted adult and the difference between a good touch and a bad one.
“Last year we were able to offer Prevention Education to approximately 1,500 children, youth and adults but if things don’t change funding wise we could see that number drop to 600 to 700 in next school year,” she stated.
Stewart complimented her team that works within the auspices of the Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre as top notch individuals who genuinely care about the people they serve.
“Everyone who works here (BASAC) does so for a reason and it’s not the money,” Stewart said. “They believe in what we do and they care about our clients so with these changes [becoming] a real possibility, it has not been easy for them.”
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