While the province is advertising its VictimLink B.C. phone referral service on buses throughout the province this month, the head of the Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre says creation of the centralized office has cost people their lives.
Cynthia Davies said Friday the Liberal government made VictimLink B.C. after it cut $1 million in funding to crisis lines, free counseling for men who experienced sexual assault and community sexual assault response teams.
Those cuts occurred a decade ago, and Kamloops has not had a crisis line since.
“For some communities like Kelowna, losing the crisis line services was not so devastating because they have three more crisis and community phone lines in place,” she said. “But somewhere like Kamloops has now been without any crisis line service for 10 years.
“I believe there have actually been deaths because of it. We were getting about 600 serious calls per year. We would get calls from people who didn’t know where to go in the middle of the night or who were left stranded. We could talk to them and help them access the hospital or get rides. It was serious. We had two people online 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and we had backup and the sexual assault response team.”
Davies said her agency has had referrals from VictimLink, but all that staff at that service can do is give out the number for her centre when it opens the next day. It doesn’t give them counseling at the moment they need it most, she said.
“If no one’s talking to that person, they’re just referred to an agency the next morning. That doesn’t keep them safe at night,” said Davies.
“It’s impacted us (Kamloops) more than most communities.”
In a press release Friday, the province touts VictimLink BC as having assisted more than 10,800 people in 2011-12, and more than 96,000 people since it was created in 2003.
The service provides help in several languages via a toll-free line. An accompanying website, www.victimlinkbc.ca, was created in 2010.
Davies said she believes the crisis line loss has had a serious and negative impact in Kamloops, especially for the poor, the homeless and young people who are out on the streets.
“A lot of them would call the crisis line, any crisis line, trying to get help,” she said.
As an example, she recalled the case of a 15-year-old girl who was in Kamloops but from a community 45 minutes outside of town. She was raped and went to the hospital to have a rape kit done.
She was discharged to the hospital parking lot at 3 a.m. on a February morning, knowing no one and nowhere to go. The earliest bus home was at 6 a.m.
Davies said she called the crisis line and a worker took her to the bus stop and stayed with her until she boarded, three hours later.
“Those kind of services are gone,” she said.
“With VictimLink, all they will do with someone from Kamloops is tell them to call the Sexual Assault Counseling Centre when it opens in the morning. We would talk to them for hours, helping them find resources.”