Thursday , 13 May 2021

In Light of Me Too and New Location, Dragonfly Sexual Assault Services “Scrambling” to Keep Up With Demand

Dragonfly Sexual Assault Services is reporting large increases of people looking for help, and are “scrambling” to keep up with the increasing demand.

Last week, the Dragonfly Centre had 18 unique intakes in just two days, most of those being recent urgent cases involving minors.

Their monthly average is now up to 26 total intakes with their highest being 40 this May.

“It’s going crazy right now,” said Cheryl Bujold, executive director of the Dragonfly Centre.

She’s been crunching these numbers to show the provincial government they need more funding to continue operation.

In her report, she details that intakes have growth by 300 per cent over the last six month period from that time last year. Forty-five per cent of those cases involved minors.

Plus, they’ve conducted 1054 client sessions in that time too, not too far off their total for last year at 1300 client sessions.

So what’s causing this sudden uptick?

It could be that the Dragonfly Centre is now on mainstreet Bonnyville leading to more walk-in cases, but Bujold also says that we are experiencing a cultural shift where people are feeling more comfortable to come forward and access services.

“That’s directly related to the high-profile #metoo movement and the provincial-wide #IBelieveYou campaign,” she said.

“I’ve been dealing with cases of domestic and sexual violence for almost 20 years and I think we’re going through something substantial here. This has been an issue people haven’t been able to talk about. It’s the lowest reported crime.”

Dragonfly wants to hire more staff and expand their space, but their challenge is funding.

The province has told Dragonfly they had to start looking to look for more funding streams, so they are applying for grants and adding new programs.

“The work is growing here and it’s hard to keep up because some of the grant funding programs want to see the numbers. But our numbers are exploding so quickly that we’re still in a very reactionary way because we’re still such a new agency in its infancy,” she said.

“We figure we’ll be able to show our numbers, it’s just getting that funding through the doors quick enough.”

The province might not understand the reality of providing sexual assault services in a large rural setting either, said Bujold, as counsellors are travelling to 30 different locations a week to serve a chunk of the province.

If Bujold had her way, the Dragonfly Centre would hire four more people (a counsellor, a client advocate, an educator, and an Indigenous navigator) to help with the demand.

“I think we’ll definitely be able to sustain it, but we definitely need some more help.”

Child Advocacy Centres

Dragonfly also just completed their community action plan on sexual violence where they collected information from lakeland communities (Lac la Biche, St. Paul, Cold Lake, Bonnyville and seven First Nations communities and four Metis settlements) to see what services could be improved in the area.

The recommendations include child advocacy centres in the area, public awareness campaigns, and more resources within hospitals and EMTs.

“It turned out there’s a lot to be done,” said Bujold. “The sectors now are aware of who we are and what we do, so we can start working together to fill some of these larger gaps.”

A child advocacy centre helps give options to the family and child who’s suffering the trauma, since many don’t know what they should do.

“It’s a very confusing time for the families as far as what their roles are. That’s why many will call us pre-report so that we can help them organize the interview with the RCMP – because there’s things that they can ask for. An officer in plain clothes, a female or male officer, Odie (dog), to have a support person in the room with them. There’s lots of things that people just aren’t aware of,” she said.

Rolling out these programs is also their focus at the moment, as there is interest in Lac la Biche and Bonnyville for a child advocacy centre.

However, there are just four child advocacy centres in the entire province.

To bring one to the lakeland area, there would have to be community buy-in and support from Dragonfly’s stakeholders, and research on how to organize their own since each run a little differently.

“It’s encouraging that we’re exploring these options for the community, because obviously there’s a need, obviously there’s a want. Now is the time to take action. So I think it’s exciting to go out and look at some of these other models.”

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.