- The Women’s Support Network of York Region (WSN) provides free, non-judgmental, and confidential support to those who have experienced sexual violence.
- In 2022, the organization received a grant from the Stouffville Legacy Fund, enabling them to facilitate a virtual support group for survivors of human trafficking.
- Last fall, WSN launched its #NotEnough campaign to raise awareness about the increasing prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence within York Region communities.
- Federal and provincial funding for WSN’s youth support and housing subsidy programs is scheduled to expire in March, placing vital assistance for affected young people and safe housing for human trafficking survivors at risk.
- WSN is looking to expand partnerships with Stouffville businesses and organizations to grow their support and education programs and address gaps stemming from this loss of crucial funding.
- Additionally, the organization is seeking donations and recruiting additional volunteers to meet demand for its services.
Sexual violence reporting in York Region increased 32% between 2021 and 2022, according to the #NotEnough report. This has resulted in significant demand and resulting strain on WSN programs, including sexual violence and human trafficking counselling and crisis lines. The wait list continues to grow for WSN’s youth services, and they face real challenges in the provision of practical supports such as winter clothing, toiletries and hygienic products, and grocery gift cards.
Despite the increasing demand at WSN and sexual assault centres across Ontario, there have been few sustained increases in government funding. “There is something we all can do to address this,” Jacqueline Benn-John, WSN’s Executive Director, told Bullet Point News. “WSN is asking for community commitments which support survivors and work towards prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in our communities, homes, schools, workplaces, everywhere.”
As part of that call, WSN is seeking public participation and investment in prevention education to raise awareness and challenge sexual assault myths and victim-blaming. They are also advocating for a publicly-supported York Region safe house for trafficked women. “Sexually exploited survivors should not have to seek safety outside of the Region,” Benn-John stated.
Individuals can contribute by donating, volunteering, and spreading the word about WSN and other service providers offering these needed supports. Businesses, local organizations, and faith groups can also get involved by contacting WSN to partner on education and awareness programs. “We hope that…more people can learn about sexual and gender-based violence in our communities and the ways they can get involved and support survivors,” added Seema Allahdini, an Advocacy Consultant with WSN.
WSN is also asking for greater calls to all levels of government for implementation and continuation of adequate public funding programs. “What we’ve seen instead is an increase in precarious, short-term project funding,” Benn-John explained.
For example, Ontario’s Anti-Human Trafficking Community Supports Fund is set to expire in March. That money has helped organizations like WSN provide rent supplements for trafficked women, including those with children, to access and maintain safe and affordable housing.
While grateful for the support, Benn-John noted that these funding mechanisms cannot sustain their programs, putting those in need of ongoing assistance at risk: “Project funding has supported WSN with addressing service gaps and trends such as digital sexual violence and online luring and grooming by sex traffickers; however, project funding ends and sexual violence does not.”
Community support and advocacy are therefore essential to arresting increasing instances of sexual and gender-based violence and ensuring survivors receive the help and resources they need.
“Sexual and gender-based violence has no boundaries and affects everyone. Its prevalence is increasing in Canada and in York Region,” Benn-John concluded. “Call on the Province and Fed to provide stable, core funding for WSN and other community-based sexual assault centres that meets the needs of local survivors, particularly low barrier trauma counselling and support for sexually exploited youth.”
Readers can learn more about Women’s Support Network of York Region and their efforts on their website.