A new strategy is being launched to support survivors and end the cycle of violence – including domestic and sexual incidents – in communities across Ontario.
“Gender-based violence is heinous, completely unacceptable, and must be stopped,” said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.
“But actions speak louder than words, and that’s why it’s so important we have an actionable and comprehensive strategy in place. Our plan not only includes vital services and supports that help survivors recover and heal, but it also works to ensure our justice system is more accessible to survivors and responsive to their unique needs.”
The announcement was made in Toronto on March 1 by Minister of the Status of Women Harinder Malhi, Minister of Community and Social Services Michael Coteau, and Naqvi.
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The province is aiming to help survivors and families get the support they need, when they need it, plus prevent violence by intervening early.
Gender-based violence is any form of violence based on an individual’s gender, gender expression or gender identity and is intended to control, and harm the individual.
It can affect anyone but the majority of people impacted are women and children.
Indigenous women, racialized women, new Canadians, women in rural and northern communities, transgender/gender non-conforming people, persons with disabilities, and sex trade workers are at even higher risk.
“Ontario has made significant progress toward ending gender-based violence — awareness is higher than ever, perspectives are changing, and more people are coming forward for support and services,” said Malhi.
The strategy will focus on four key areas:
- Improving services and supports for survivors, families and communities. Support services like counselling will be expanded, as well as access to emergency shelters, transitional housing and Indigenous shelters and healing lodges.
- Intervening early and effectively to help youth who have seen or experienced violence by providing consistent and flexible supports for children who find themselves in shelters and greatly reducing the waitlist for the Child Witness program.
- Changing attitudes and norms through public education, along with training for service providers, communities and bystanders so they can recognize and respond to gender-based violence.
- Improving the justice system response by providing free legal advice to survivors of sexual assault. In addition, alternate justice options for survivors of gender-based violence that are trauma-informed and survivor-centred will be explored in partnership with the violence against women sector.
It’s Never Okay: Ontario’s Gender-based Violence Strategy is an up to $242-million framework that will build on the government’s work in the Domestic Violence Action Plan, It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women and Ontario’s Strategy to End Human Trafficking
To help develop the strategy, the province held 15 engagement sessions and heard from more than 200 agencies that help people who have experienced gender-based violence, as well as people with lived experience and Indigenous partners.
“We have listened to agencies and to people with real life experience who told us Ontario needs a consistent, comprehensive and sustained strategy to prevent violence against women and to support survivors,” said Coteau.
“Across Ontario, this new strategy will help people get the supports they need to build a safer life for themselves and their children.”
The strategy will include improving services and supports with up to $181.8 million in investments, including:
- Up to $84.2 million over three years to increase the number of people served through direct services such as community based counselling, provincial and regional crisis telephone lines, emergency shelters, transitional housing supports, Sexual Assault Centres and legal supports. Service access for targeted diverse populations including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex and Two Spirit (LGBTQI2S) and other marginalized communities will also be expanded.
- Up to $22.8 million over three years for Victim Services Programs that provide trauma-informed supports and crisis response to victims of crime, including domestic violence, assault and human trafficking.
- Up to $52.2 million over three years in capital investments to meet the needs of new service delivery models, including addressing significant accessibility renovations or leading to the creation of more culturally appropriate space at Indigenous shelters.
- Up to $14.8 million over three years to increase the capacity of Sexual Assault Centres and the Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse programs, to meet the growing demand for services and help more vulnerable populations, such as mature minors. The increased investment will also help increase access to services for survivors in rural communities.
Ontario will also invest in enhancing access to safe spaces for women and children, counselling, services in rural/remote communities, and innovation initiatives. This will mean:
- Up to 1,000 more women and children will be provided with a safe bed.
- At least 600 women will get housing supports through the Transitional Housing Support Program.
- More individuals from diverse populations will be provided inclusive, culturally-appropriate and safe services within shelters and culturally-accessible counselling (e.g. LGBTQI2S, Indigenous, Francophone, immigrant and racialized).
- 2,000 more women and children will get counselling they need along with long-term counselling to support transitions from crisis to stability.
- Up to $7.8 million over three years to expand the Language Interpreter Services (LIS) Program. LIS provides spoken and sign language interpreter services 24 hours a day 7 days a week for victims of domestic and/or sexual violence. The program enables survivors of gender-based violence to access the broader service system.
Children who have seen or experienced violence are twice as likely to be at risk of violence and victimization.
The province is investing up to $29.7 million over three years to ensure children will have access to the services they need to help them deal with trauma. Investments will provide preventative and early interventions for children and youth to prevent the cycle of violence.
Photo courtesy of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario