April 23, 2013 3:10 pm

Avalon petitions provincial government for emergency funding

Irene Smith, executive director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says it has been inundated with requests for help since the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons.

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – A Halifax organization working with victims of sexual assault says it needs emergency funding from the province and has started a petition to try and get it.

Irene Smith, executive director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says it has been inundated with requests for help since the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons. Parsons killed herself earlier this month after bullying stemming from an alleged sexual assault by four boys.

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Since the incident, Smith says the centre has received 20 calls from young women wanting to talk about their experiences and approximately dozens of calls from different community groups and schools requesting education sessions.

“I think the Rehtaeh Parsons case has certainly stirred a lot of emotion in our community and schools. I think there is some fear out there we’re not doing enough in educating the community.”

Smith says the amount of calls pouring in is taxing on an organization already stretched so thin. The centre currently only has three full time counselors.

“The petition came about as a result of the number of calls we’ve been receiving from the community and not feeling like we could adequately respond to some of the requests for services,” she said.

“We certainly lack the resources to respond to the kind of demand that’s out there.”

Avalon is petitioning the provincial government for an additional $200,000, which Smith says would go towards hiring an additional counselor and a legal support advocate as well as expanding educational resources and work in the community.

When asked about the petition for emergency funding, Marilyn More, Nova Scotia’s Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, says the province already contributes more than $600,000 to Avalon’s programs and services.

“I understand why they’re making that request but we have to be careful that we’re not just doing one-offs. We want to make sure what we’re doing in the short, medium and long term all ends up in better coverage in terms of support and intervention,” she said.

More says there is no timeline on a decision.

“We just want to make sure we don’t look at everything on an individual basis. We want everything to fit into this new strategy.”

However, the opposition says otherwise.

“The need is now. The recent tragedies have highlighted for all Nova Scotians who are demanding action,” said Jamie Baillie, leader of the PC Party. “If that means we need an immediate source of funding and a longer term plan then let’s do both.”

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