It was a short but powerful message.
“People don’t want to talk about sexual assault,” said Lisa Berketo, the administrative coordinator for the Niagara Sexual Assault Centre (NSAC), in accepting a $2500 donation for her organization from the Fonthill Legion.
“The Legion supports many worthwhile social causes, and so this means a lot to us,” she said. “The money will go directly to fund group therapy sessions we run for survivors of sexual assault, which are very important for healing and growth. We provide about 2000 hours of direct counseling services annually, and have close to 100 people on our wait list for individual counseling.”
The Niagara Sexual Assault Centre, located on Church Street in St. Catharines, is a non-profit organization that responds to the needs of survivors of sexual violence, and their families. It also provides public education programs to increase understanding and awareness of the issues surrounding sexual assault. Counseling is available in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Port Colborne, and Welland, with all services provided by Masters-level trained therapists specializing in trauma counseling.
“It is all strictly confidential, and it’s free,” said Berketo. “We also have a 24-hour confidential crisis line, which allows a sexual assault victim to speak directly to a counsellor, who will offer non-judgmental support. All clients are treated with respect and dignity. Last year, we made contact with about 10,000 people in Niagara, often through our education programs in schools.”
The roots of the organization go back to 1977, when CARSA [Committee Against Rape and Sexual Assault] was incorporated by a small group of women. A government grant provided for staffing of a 24-hour crisis line, and a core of volunteers commenced a public education program.
In 1991, the group reformed under the banner Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre, CARSA Inc. The Centre is overseen by a board of directors, with some 60 percent of its funding provided by the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services via the Office of the Attorney General. The balance comes from grants and donations.
Therapy groups for men and women, run over 14 weeks, help those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and/or sexual assault address feelings of isolation and despair.
In schools, presentations are geared to various grade levels, and span such topics as drug and alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults, acquaintance sexual assaults, healthy relationships, and internet safety.
A special focus is placed on helping teenage girls make safer choices when dealing with peer pressure in relationships. Scenarios are acted out through role-playing, and deal with internet bullying, sexting, sexual harassment, abusive relationships, and date pressure. Boys are involved in discussions dealing with such issues as the potential impact of viewing pornography, and playing violent video games, on their ability to have healthy relationships.
Human trafficking is another topic discussed during sessions with community groups and in schools, and includes information on how victims are recruited, what factors make victims vulnerable, and the grooming and manipulation strategies used by traffickers.
NSAC also provides violence prevention presentations for diverse community groups, including new immigrants, persons with disabilities, and seniors.
The phone number for the 24-hour crisis line is 905-682-4584.
For more information on all of the organization’s programs, and to make online donations, go to www.niagarasexualassaultcentre.com