On Oct. 15, 2017, a tweet started the #MeToo movement.
In B.C., there was an immediate response as reported sexual assaults rose by 16 per cent in the province. Aggravated sexual assault reports in B.C. also increased by 45 per cent in October 2017, a report from Statistics Canada said.
“Directly after the #MeToo movement took off last October, we did see about a 12 per cent increase in calls from first-time callers, survivors seeking support,” Carissa Ropponen, the communications manager for the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, said.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
The latest available data from VSAC shows a 39 per cent increase in new people accessing the victims’ service program from Oct. 2017 to May 2018 — in the months immediately after the #MeToo movement went viral — compared to the same time the year before.
While demand for their support has been increasing steadily since the clinic opened in Victoria two years ago, the spike inspired by the #MeToo movement is partially because of the growing public conversation about sexualized violence, Ropponen said. When stories such as the Brett Kavanaugh hearing to become a U.S. Supreme Court judge, which saw Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify he sexually assaulted her in high school, there’s always an increase in calls to VSAC.
“When issues of sexual assault are in the media and are in the public realm and people are speaking about this, it does trigger survivors,” Ropponen said.
“For survivors, it’s a negative emotional response. For some people, it can bring them back to the experience of sexualized violence that they themselves have experienced. That could include flashbacks. For people who are trying to go about living their lives and then they’re hearing about sexual assault, it can bring their experiences back to them really strongly.”
VSAC opened 36 years ago and added its Sexual Assault Clinic in 2016. Then, approximately 54 people a year used their support services directly after a sexual assault.
“Now we have 137 [annually]. We’ve seen a 169 per cent increase within two years for that service,” Ropponen said of their Sexual Assault Response Team at the clinic.
Victims of sexual assault can call VSAC’s access line (250-383-3232) for emotional support, access to crisis counselling, support groups, long-term trauma counselling as well as victim services. Survivors can also use the victims’ service program for help with reporting to police, getting medical assistance and the criminal justice process.
“A year after the #MeToo movement really took off, now more than ever we need increased financial support to maintain these services and to sustain them,” Ropponen said.
How you can help
The Victoria Sexual Assault Centre does not receive core funding from the government and must rely on fundraising and donations. Financial contributions can be made directly on vsac.ca, where information about volunteering, training and fundraising support can also be found.
“Other things people can do to support survivors is believe them,” Ropponen said. “It’s really important for survivors to know they have support from their community. Then support services and centres such as ours so we can be there for survivors and help them find the healing they seek.”