Provincial policy change limits options for assault survivors

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This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
 
The provincial government’s looming changes to its program to support sexual violence survivors will marginalize the very communities the resource is meant to help.
 
With its implementation scheduled for October, the Ontario government’s new Victim Quick Response Program+ (VQRP+) will build upon former Criminal Injuries Compensation Board policy as the standard compensation program for victims of violent crimes.
 
The VQRP+ will strive to ensure that victims of those crimes and their families receive faster access to services and resources. But to do so, the program will require applicants to request support within 90 days of the crime’s occurrence, as well as report the crime to an Ontario police service.
 
This policy will exclude a large portion of the program’s demographic from being able to access its supports: survivors of sexual violence. 
 
The new compensation system lumps sexual violence survivors under the umbrella of violent crime victims. In doing so, the VQRP+ fails to acknowledge that the aftermath of sexual violence is often different for survivors than it is for any other crime.
 
According to a General Social Survey, in 2014, only 5 per cent of sexual assaults in Canada were reported to police. This is considerably less than the 38 per cent of physical assaults reported that same year.
 
The vast majority of sexual assault survivors don’t report the crimes against them. This is often attributed to a number of factors, all of which are valid and personal decisions: fear they won’t be believed, community tensions with police, or concern for personal safety, to name a few.
 
Whatever their reasons, survivors are entitled to choose when, or if, they want to report their experiences. They shouldn’t be pressured to do so on a one-size-fits-all timeline to receive the basic support they deserve. 
 
This program was designed to benefit victims without the financial resources to access counselling services, but it will disempower low-income survivors. 
 
The majority of survivors, who don’t report the crime within 90 days of the date it occurred, will be denied access to the program. The few who do meet the requirements will only receive access to short-term care at a maximum of approximately 10 counselling sessions or $1,000. 
 
Prioritizing speed over accessibility demonstrates our government’s apathy toward survivors, and a complete lack of meaningful consultation in the development of the program.
 
Sexual assault survivors in Ontario require better, more comprehensive, and more meaningful public resources. Instead of being limited to a generalized emergency support program, the province should engage in more consultation to offer services designed specifically to meet their needs.
 
After all, shrinking the scope of care for the people who need it is never the answer. 
 

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