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Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton credits #MeToo for doubling number of new clients

A screenshot of an Alyssa Milano tweet about the#metoo campaign on Oct. 15, 2017. CREDIT: Twitter.@Alyssa_Milano

What started out as a hashtag on Twitter quickly became a movement.

That’s according to Mary Jane James, the executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE). Reflecting on 2017, James said the number of people reaching out to SACE for counselling services and support has increased dramatically.

“I attribute that in significant way to the #MeToo campaign and the other individuals in our city, and our province, and beyond who’ve had the courage to forward, and that gives people that strength to be able to come forward and tell their story, too.”

The public conversation about sexual harassment and assault amplified in mid-October after allegations surfaced against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo hashtag spread across the web after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a friend had suggested writing “me too” as a status to allow people to understand the magnitude of sexual harassment and assault.

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READ MORE: Sexual harassment named Canadian Press News Story of the Year

“Sometime is takes people in the limelight, in the spotlight to really shine the necessary light on this, and that’s what’s been done. And that gives the ordinary folk a chance to say, you know, that happened to me too, and I am going to speak up, and I am going to get the help that I feel that I need and I definitely deserve,” James said.

But the increase in demand has also put the organization at capacity and beyond.

Since the #MeToo campaign took off, the SACE has seen the number of new clients seeking their services double along with the number of hours of counselling provided to those clients.

SACE currently has a six-to-eight-month waiting list for counselling services and their 10-person community engagement is stretched to its limit.

But James said community engagement, teaching prevention, is what will help turn the movement into a cultural shift.

“Without those tools in place we can’t expect that the issue will go away, it won’t. We have to educate our public about this, not just the systemic issue that it’s become but what we need to do together collaboratively going forward,” James said.

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James said the only thing that can help to increase SACE’s reach is more funding.

READ MORE: Breaking the silence: new survey reveals more than half of Canadian women sexually harassed at work

And the only way they can get more funding is for the provincial government to recognize them as an essential service that needs to be funded.

James said they’ve been in talks with the government at ministry levels and they are aware of the situation.

She says she’s hopeful the government will do the right thing and recognize that this is a pay-now-or-pay-later situation.

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