For over 40 years, the Sexual Assault Centre for Hamilton Area has been working diligently to support survivors and to end sexual violence.
Through services including a 24-hour support line, individual or group counselling and advocacy program, public prevention education, and a Diverse Communities Outreach program that offers supportive programming for Hamilton’s diverse racial and cultural communities, SACHA aims to “challenge the social and political structures that contribute to the violence, oppression, and exploitation of all people”.
“It’s really important that we have independent, community-based, sexual assault centres where people can go that are not part of the criminal system,” said Lenore Lukasik-Foss, director of SACHA. “We can offer support, listen, our services are free, and that’s really important because we know survivors don’t tell anybody. We want to be there so that they can talk to us. Its not just the counselling work that we do but the prevention work is really important if we’re ever going to prevent sexual violence,” she said.
In Feb., the Globe and Mail released the results of a 20-month long investigation, titled “Unfounded”, which detailed how police in Canada address sexual assault allegations. The report found that one in five sexual assault allegations throughout Canada are dismissed as baseless by local police departments, with a national average of about 19 per cent.
According to the report, upwards of one in three sexual assault allegations in Hamilton are deemed as baseless by the Hamilton Police Department, leaving the city with an unfounded sexual assault rate of nearly 30 per cent over the past five years.
The instance of a false accusation of sexual assault is rare, however. Only two to eight per cent of all reported sexual assaults in Canada are false reports, leaving all other cases that are deemed unfounded as void to local law enforcements.
With these statistics coming to light, it can be difficult for survivors to share their stories with law enforcement officials. This makes it a critical time for local support centres, such as SACHA, to continue to provide free support services to survivors.
SACHA receives limited funding from local and provincial government sectors in addition to donations from local businesses and supporters. But the majority of the funding they receive comes through fundraising events, such as their annual Chocolate Fest, which took place in its 13th year on March 2.
“We need the help from our community supporters to ensure we are able to continue to provide our free services and programs to help survivors,” said Annie Horton, events and fundraising coordinator at SACHA. “The money raise from fundraisers goes to keeping us afloat – generally, whatever aspect of the organization needs the funding most will see it first.”
Fundraising also serves as an important method to raise awareness and recognition within the community. The promotion of a fundraising event enables community members to make connections to the organization and for the organization’s overall message to be widely circulated, which Horton notes as an important aspect in SACHA’s active efforts to prevent sexual violence.
“Without fundraising events and involving our community, our programs wouldn’t be as recognized as they are and continue to be,” said Horton. “It’s so important to involve our community in the work we do. Hamilton is an incredibly supportive and active community, especially now with what has been happening in the media. It’s great to see the city come together in solidarity.”
SACHA hosts informative and necessary events throughout the year that provide necessary education and awareness needed in challenging the existing barriers for people of all genders. From Take Back the Night, Hamilton’s Feminist Zine Fair, to Chocolate Fest, each event promotes awareness and community within the city of Hamilton.