‘Huge sense of relief’ as program helping sexual assault survivors in rural Manitoba gets funding from feds

An organization that helps sexual assault survivors in rural Manitoba embark on the journey toward recovery has received a new funding commitment from the federal government. 

Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre has been running the Sexual Assault Recovery and Healing program, also known as SARAH, for about five years, but its future was recently in question after Ottawa ended its funding at the end of March. But that outlook has now changed as the Justice Department announced more than $150,000 for SARAH over the next three years Thursday. 

“This funding for the next three years is certainly a huge sense of relief to know that survivors are being supported and that we don’t have to worry about what’s happening tomorrow,” said Survivor’s Hope executive director Coral Kendel. 

“That we can look to plan wonderful healing opportunities and connections for the next three years before we start thinking about kind of next steps. So it gives us some breathing room to focus on what we do best and that’s supporting survivors.” 

The program offers victims of sexual assault, abuse, harassment, exploitation and trafficking in the Interlake-Eastern region free long-term counselling along with advocacy, legal supports and opportunities to build communities with other survivors through healing groups.

Kendel said SARAH is the only program of its kind in the region, except for one in Brandon. They hold thousands of counselling sessions every year, helping hundreds of survivors heal, she said. 

Without SARAH, survivors may have been diverted to waitlists in Winnipeg or away from their community supports and family systems, Kendel said. She also noted if those cases were to arise, people would also have to front their own expenses like child care, gas for travel, and miss a full day of work. 

“Our model, especially of the SARAH program is always to, whenever possible, reduce barriers by traveling to folks, meeting them in their home community, at a comfortable space in community or doing appointments by phone or virtually,” she said. “So we reduce barriers by having things and having the knowledge of what an experience is of the small rural communities as well.” 

People holding some signs
Kendel said Survivor’s Hope survey from last year found 40 per cent of respondents in rural Manitoba said they or someone they knew had experienced sexual violence in their community. (Submitted by Coral Kendel)

The funding commitment from the federal government is $167,808 over three years, according to a Facebook post from the Department of Justice.  Kendel said the organization was contacted about three weeks ago and have been waiting for the department to make its announcement.

“We’ve signed the funding contract and so they are immediately committing to funding the program for the next three years until the end of March 2027,” she said. 

“It immediately creates that assurance and that ongoing financial contribution that we can expect to see from them.” 

Robyn Laurie Sugden is a survivor of sexual violence who used to work at Survivor’s Hope and later accessed free counselling under the SARAH program after she stopped working there. Sugden said finding about the funding being cut brought back a lot of feelings, grief and was even retraumatizing. 

“To hear that this is going to be getting funded it again is just great, and it shows that survivors are a priority,” said Sugden. “When it got cut, it kind of felt like we didn’t matter and our experiences don’t deserve free counselling, but at the same time, we know that that’s not true.” 

“It’s very reaffirming to know that we matter and that the government now sees that.” 

Sugden also said the outpouring of support from the community during the time where SARAH’s future looked bleak was really empowering and shows that survivors who are able to can use their experiences to make change.

“We fought hard to get this back,” said Sugden.

A woman with glasses.
Robyn Laurie Sugden first came to Survivor’s Hope as an employee, but it wasn’t until she stopped working there that she realized how much she could use the help. (Submitted by Robyn Laurie Sugden)

Survivor’s Hope also received $25,000 in emergency funding from the provincial government back in April. They also crowdfunded around $30,000, Kendel said. 

“Our community was just phenomenal and immediately stepping forward and contributing to fill the gaps that were dropped.” 

The majority of the funding from the federal government will go toward paying the staff who sit with survivors, hear their experiences, help connect them with resources, navigate them through difficult systems and help them heal from their experiences through therapeutic counselling, she said. 

But Kendel also said while she and others are trying to “live in the joyful moment,” the reality for non-profit work is funding is a continual need and finding consistent funds can be a challenge. 

“My hope is that with all of the noise that we’ve made over the past two months and with this contribution, it really inspires other foundations or levels of government to step forward and make that sustainable past that three-year mark or for federal justice to then continue it on when this contract ends.”