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Alberta gives $8.1M to support services for sexual assault survivors

WATCH: Imagine finding the courage to talk about your sexual assault and then being told there's no help for eight months. As Kendra Slugoski reports, Alberta has a plan to reduce wait lists.

As more sexual assault survivors come forward seeking help, the Alberta government is putting $8.1 million towards expanding front-line support services, including a province-wide phone, text and chat line.

“These funds will have a tremendous impact on the lives of survivors,” said Debra Tomlinson, the chief executive director of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS), which is receiving the money.

The money will be used for ongoing funding of front-line services, including expanding crisis response and greater use of specialized police and court support workers.

READ MORE: Calgary sexual assault centres in crisis following increase in victims coming forward

Sexual assault centres and law enforcement are reporting increased demand for counselling services, the province said, citing the #IBelieveYou campaign and international #MeToo movement, which is helping those who have been assaulted feel safe about reaching out for help.

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The increase has also led to longer wait times to access help at sexual assault centres — in some instances, victims are left waiting as long as nine months.

“[The funds] will not only address the 53 [per cent] increase in new counselling clients and unprecedented wait lists our member agencies faced but will allow us to provide specialized services to rural areas of Alberta,” Tomlinson said.

The money will allow AASAS to hire more staff in seven under-served communities so survivors in those regions get the support they need close to home.

READ MORE: More detectives needed as #MeToo increases demands on Calgary Police

“Courageous women in Alberta and around the world are finally breaking their silence and sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment. We hear them and we stand with them,” Minister of Status of Women Stephanie McLean said, adding the money will help fund more counselling and help people navigate the court and police systems.

The funding is coming from three government departments: Community and Social Services, Health, and Justice and Solicitor General.

READ MORE: Why legal experts say #MeToo is more than just a movement

Community and Social Services (CSS) is giving $6.225 million for increased counselling, outreach and education services, and to develop a Collaborative Community Response Model targeting seven under-served regions in the province:

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  • North West – High Level, High Prairie, Peavine, Rainbow Lake, Fort Vermillion
  • North East – Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Janvier
  • North Central – Wabasca, Slave Lake, Athabasca
  • Central West – Hinton, Jasper, Edson
  • Central East – Bonnyville, Cold Lake, St. Paul, Lac La Biche
  • Bow Valley – Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise
  • South West – Lethbridge, Cardston, Taber, Pincher Creek

The health ministry is providing $750,000 for specialized counselling and expanded services, and Justice is giving $1.09 million to boost police and court support services.

READ MORE: #MeToo movement exposing generational divide between millennial and older women

Sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes in Canada. Of reported cases, 87 per cent of victims are women and 94 per cent of assailants are men, the province said.