March 7, 2017 9:02 pm

Nova Scotia groups question future of sexual violence strategy

In 2014, the Liberals promised $6 million over three years for the sexual violence strategy focused on prevention and support for victims.

Cory McGraw / Global News
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As the province’s first sexual violence strategy winds down, a network of groups addressing sexual assault in Nova Scotia says it wants to know what the government is committing to going forward.

READ MORE: NS justice system in the spotlight, amid low rate of sexual assault cases leading to charges

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“We know that there have been many good projects that have been funded,” said Miia Suokonautio, co-chair of the Sexual Assault Services Network of Nova Scotia. “What happens beyond that is a really important question for us.”

Suokonautio was at a legislative committee on Tuesday to hear an update on the sexual violence strategy. In 2014, the Liberals announced they would fund the strategy with $6 million over three years.

The funding for the strategy expires in March, but the person leading the strategy says the projects announced through the latest round of funding will continue into next year. Sarah Granke is a specialist on sexual violence prevention and supports and is responsible for implementing the strategy.

“We’re in the midst of figuring out what the next steps are,” Granke told reporters after the committee hearing. She said there will be “ongoing work” at the community level while the government looks at what did and didn’t work in the strategy and what the focus should be going forward.

“The government, our department, and our minister are very committed to sexual violence prevention and supports,” she said.

Suokonautio said the Sexual Assault Services Network would like to see “a full and comprehensive strategy” going forward. She said that should include all aspects of the justice system, community groups, and statistics around sexual violence.

In the spring, the network will present its recommendations to the community services committee. There’s “much work to be done,” she said.

Sexual Violence Strategy still tackling to-do list

Through the strategy the government has developed an awareness campaign targeted at youth. The videos and posters are available publicly and can be used by community groups and teachers to talk to children and teens about sexual violence, Granke said. She said an online training course will soon be freely available that will focus on how to support a survivor of sexual violence.

However, other items promised in the strategy aren’t yet complete. For example, the government’s commitment to give multi-year funding to sexual assault centres across the province isn’t yet in place.

NDP MLA Lisa Roberts said delays in implementing the multi-year funding is troubling because sexual assault centres struggle to plan for the long term and maintain continuity in their programming.

“It’s March and some (centres) don’t know what their funding is going to be starting April 1,” Roberts said. “So I think that really has to be an urgent priority and I’m disappointed that hasn’t already been done.”

Overall, Roberts said she sees an “issue” with the province’s ability to address the needs of survivors. The NDP has said it would immediately give an additional $2 million in funding for sexual assault centres and therapists.

Following a year of consultations, the strategy was introduced in 2015. At the time, Premier Stephen McNeil said it would ensure there is equal support for victims of sexual violence across the province.

READ MORE: Mi’kmaq community projects to prevent sexualized violence receives provincial funding

The first update to the program in 2016 outlined the following accomplishments in the strategy’s first year:

  • Established nine community support networks
  • Created a public awareness committee
  • Provided $1.25 million in grants for the community support networks
  • Developed training sessions for 211 and 811 employees
  • Provided $650,000 in prevention innovation grants
  • Hosted a Mi’kmaq community engagement gathering

-With files from Heide Pearson, Global News

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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