Local sexual assault centres are applauding new provincial legislation that aims to make it easier for victims of sexual and domestic violence to come forward when they're ready.
Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, was introduced by the Alberta government on March 7. If passed, it would remove time restraints for when victims can bring forward civil claims.
“It's a positive thing for individuals who have been impacted by domestic or sexual assault. What happens is survivors aren't always ready to report or move forward with what happened to them. It could be a year or two, or more, for them to come forward with their story,” said Gaby Rivard, intake worker/administrative coordinator for The Dragonfly Centre in Bonnyville.
Rivard added that it's something they see often at the local facility.
“That's the majority of our clients; 80 per cent of our clients are survivors of sexual abuse or assault that happened to them a long time ago. Most of them it was child abuse, so they don't say anything until they're older.”
Currently, the Limitations Act specifies that any civil claim arising from an assault must be started within two years of when the victim knows of the incident. Bill 2 would see that limitation removed for claims dealing with sexual assault, sexual misconduct involving a minor whether an intimate relationship or dependant, and non-sexual assault involving a minor, intimate relationship or dependant.
“By eliminating limitation periods, we are making space for survivors of sexual and domestic violence to come forward when they are ready. We respect the time it may take to do this. If passed, Bill 2 will improve the lives of these Albertans,” Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley said in a statement.
Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services CEO Debra Tomlinson added her approval, “This change in legislation increases the opportunities for those who have experienced sexual assault to find justice. This gives survivors another avenue to seek reparation, while holding those who commit sexual assault accountable.”
Removing the two-year condition could give more survivors the strength to come forward, noted Rivard, as making a claim could help them get much-needed benefits to help pay for counselling or healing services to help them move forward.
The repercussions of sexual and domestic violence can be far-reaching, impacting victims in their day-to-day lives. Without the proper supports in place, it can be difficult for a survivor to integrate in society.
“The thing for individuals that have been impacted by this event is that it's hard for them to function in society. It's hard for them to get involved in the community and even get a job, or just keep themselves grounded and commit to something,” explained Rivard, adding that the trauma of sexual assault or domestic violence causes emotions that run a victim's life.
“For survivors, it's hard to have transportation and to commit to counselling, because sometimes they don't even have the strength to leave their own houses. Removing the barrier of two years, I see it as a good thing for individuals to come along and place the claim. It's just another process and hopefully it will help them to have some resources financially.”
The Dragonfly Centre serves a large geographical population including Bonnyville, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, St. Paul, and the First Nations and Métis settlements in the area. As other agencies continue to refer victims to the service, the centre's seen a jump in the number of clients.
According to Rivard, they had a 100 per cent increase in amount of clients they're serving from 2015 to 2016. The Dragonfly Centre saw around 200 individuals in 2016. Of those, 79 per cent were women and 21 per cent were men; 57 per cent were adult clients and 43 per cent children.
“Because we're still a new agency, some individuals don't know about us until they go to other resources, such as mental health or victim services. They get referrals to come here. We're getting a little bit more well-known because all of these other resources are getting to know about us.”
While there are already some support in place to help victims out with the financial aspect and accessing resources, Rivard noted that Bill 2 is another “step in the right direction” to helping survivors of sexual and domestic violence in Alberta.