Since the 1970s, women around the world have raised awareness about sexual violence and the right to be safe in our streets, homes, schools, religious institutions, workplaces and communities at Take Back the Night marches. Typically, these are loud events, where women make a lot of noise to claim back our safety.
As TBTN events begin to wrap up for this year, those of us in Ontario need to be especially angry and loud. Doug Ford’s “putting people first” agenda has shoved survivors of sexual violence right off the bus with recent changes to “victim services” that come into effect at the end of the month.
Here’s a look at what those changes mean for sexual assault survivors in particular.
Criminal Injuries Compensation Board
Ontario’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB), has been a tribunal – independent of government – that accepts applications from victims of violent crime and determines if they should receive financial compensation for their injuries, both physical and psychological. Victims could receive up to $30,000 as a one-time payment as well as up to $1,000/month to a total of $365,000 in ongoing payments.
An award from the CICB covered such costs as medical and dental treatment and therapy, loss of income, support for a child born as the result of a sexual assault, funeral expenses and counselling as well as compensation for pain and suffering.
Importantly, a victim of violent crime could make a successful application to the CICB whether or not they reported the crime to the police, whether or not a charge was laid and whether or not, if a charge was laid, the accused was found guilty.
While applications for compensation had to be made within two years of the crime taking place, this limitation was waived routinely for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Deirdre McDade, a lawyer at Belleville’s Community Advocacy and Legal Centre, who also chaired the Board’s practice advisory committee notes that most of those receiving awards have been survivors of sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence:
“People do describe it as life-changing.”
Victim Quick Response Program
Despite the clear need for and success of the CICB, the provincial government has decided — with no consultation with the practice advisory committee — that it is not needed any more. Claiming a concern for victims who now “won’t be forced to relive their trauma through a long and complex adjudicative model,” as of October 1, the CICB will be replaced by the Victim Quick Response Program (VQRP+).
It may be the case that survivors of violent crime will no longer have to complete a long application form, which could be a traumatizing experience, but it is also the case that they will receive far less money, especially survivors of adult sexual assault.
Under the new regime, direct victims, immediate family members and, in some cases, witnesses of serious assaults, sexual abuse, homicide or attempted murder, intimate partner violence, human trafficking and hate crimes can apply for financial assistance with immediate post-crime needs.
However, the person must have no financial resources of their own, and there must be no publicly funded programs available to assist them.
VQRP+ can assist a survivor with immediate expenses such as funeral costs, crime scene clean-up, emergency repairs to their home and limited short-term counselling. There is no compensation for pain and suffering.
Applications for financial assistance must be made within 45 days for most costs and within six months for short-term counselling.
The government promises a quick turn-around on applications: within three days for funerals, crime scene clean-up and emergency home repairs and within five days for short-term counselling.
The financial assistance is sparse: up to $5,000 for funeral expenses, as much as $1,500 for crime scene clean-up and a maximum of $1,000 for emergency repairs. And for short-term counselling? A limit of a mere $1,000.
And, perhaps most importantly, with rare exceptions, survivors must report the crime to the police, because the VQRP+ is administered across the province through police Victim Service agencies.
Who is left out?
While this change has negative implications for survivors of many crimes, it is sexual assault survivors who appear to be left completely in the cold. Sexual assault is not listed explicitly as one of the crimes covered by VQRP+. The requirement to report through a police station will mean few survivors of sexual assault even consider making an application. The same is true for the requirement to report within 45 days or 6 months – many survivors of sexual assault are not ready to take any steps for many months or even years after they have been assaulted.
Even for a survivor who does make an application, there is little waiting for her at the end of this enhanced, expedited process, with only $1,000 available for short-term counselling. One of the greatest strengths of the CICB awards was that they could cover ongoing counselling costs for the many years required by survivors of sexual assault who are dealing with trauma.
Attorney General Doug Downey claimed, through his press secretary Jenessa Crognali, that:
“VQRP+ ensures victims can access critical, tangible supports in the immediate aftermath of a crime.”
Survivors of sexual assault and those who support them disagree. Take Back the Night provides us with an opportunity to make noise about this. In Kingston, we will be doing just that on Thursday September 26th, beginning at 6:30 in Confederation Basin. Join us and add your voice to those telling Doug Ford not to ignore survivors of sexual assault.