Alberta sexual assault victims on waitlists for over a year for some

Sexual assault centres in Alberta are seeing heightened demand as more people seek help. Taylor Braat has more on the overall picture in the province.

By Taylor Braat and Alejandro Melgar

Alberta non-profit sexual assault organizations say survivors are waiting for upwards of a year to process their trauma with specialized services.

In a 2020 study by AASAS, 43 per cent of people said they experienced at least one incident of sexual assault, which amounts to 1.8 million people.

That includes 34 per cent of children. One in three boys said they had experienced sexual assault, while almost one in two girls had.

“I was nine. I was traumatized so severely [that] I blocked it out until I was 12. I didn’t reach out for help until 2016. So there was an extended space of time I just buried,” said Neil Campbell, a sexual assault survivor.

“Some of the other men I met in group counselling were just barely functioning. You could just see in their eyes they’re defeated. So, when I imagine people like myself and these men waiting for a year or more for counselling, it makes me feel fearful. Not all survivors are as lucky as I am. Not all of us have the strength to hang on. The reality is that not all of us will make it.”

StatsCan says that police-reported sexual assault increased by 18 per cent in 2021.

The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) has wait lists of 12 to 14 months, while waitlists in Calgary remain high.


“Right now, our waitlist is over half a year, and there are over 200 people on that waitlist,” said Danielle Aubry, the CEO of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse.

“The sad thing for us is that for people who don’t go on the waitlist, or people who drop, we don’t know what happens to them.”

Aubry says it’s difficult to seek out help, so it’s important for help to be available.

Meanwhile, the AASAS says more people are coming forward because of movements that started in 2017, like the #MeToo movement and Alberta’s #IBelieveYou campaign.

“In the last five to seven years, I’ve seen a shift in culture like I’ve never seen before,” said Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS). “And then the pandemic [happened]. Survivors aren’t hiding away any more, they’re reaching out for help.”

Tomlinson says they’ve asked the government to help address the waitlists, the complexities, justice, and more education.

“Sexual assault centres just cannot meet the increase in demand that we’re experiencing,” she told CityNews.

“Because it’s been hidden away for so many years because of the stigma and the shame, I don’t think Albertans — I don’t think our government recognizes the scope of this problem.”

Private therapy can be costly, and benefit coverage can be limited. Tomlinson says they offer up to 24 sessions, and it’s close to free.

“And not all private therapists are experienced and willing to process sexual violence trauma,” she said.

Read More: ‘Bottlenecked’: Alberta women’s shelters turn thousands away, report says

The province tells CityNews they’re looking into a review of the proposal for more funding.

“Alberta’s government is committed to combatting sexual violence and ensuring proper care is available to victims,” the statement from the province reads.

“Following Budget 2020, we increased budgets for Sexual Assault Centres over three years, bringing our ministry’s Sexual Violence Prevention funding to $13.8 million in 2022/23. Overall, government provides over $17 million across four ministries.”

-With files from Carly Robinson

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