More money needed to help victims of sexual violence

Lynn Cohen, the Durham Rape Crisis Centre's counsellor and education coordinator. Photo credit: Lynn Cohen

The Durham Rape Crisis Centre’s (DRCC) Lynn Cohen wants the provincial government to invest more money in an effort to help those affected by sexual violence.

“Step up and give more money, I know that sounds like a flippant sort of answer but I do think that’s a big part of it, we need more money for more services that are more easily accessible to folks that are needing those services and the staff to be able to provide those services,” says Cohen, who works as a counsellor and public education coordinator for the DRCC.

Currently, the DRCC has a waiting list of 50 to 60 names and the wait list is roughly six to nine months, according to Cohen.

Cohen spoke to a small group at Durham College Nov. 26 about sexual violence as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence event. The 16 days start Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and end Dec. 10, Human Rights Day.

“What I can say about the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence is I think it’s about creating these days around these issues, like sexual violence, human trafficking. So I guess it’s looking at these days as a way of providing education and awareness to the students,” says Cohen.

She does individual and group counselling, along with workshops, but also works as the public education coordinator.

She says the reason she has two roles is because DRCC doesn’t have enough money to two employees to do the work.

“So by virtue of not having enough money to pay two separate people, about 15 years ago I was asked by our director and our board of directors if I was interested in going out and talking to people about sexual violence and I was like ‘yeah, I’ll do that’. They were like ‘we’re going to give you an extra dollar an hour for doing that’,” she says.

She says she splits her two roles, 60 per cent of her time goes toward counselling, 40 per cent to her work as public education coordinator.

In addition to more financial assistance to help victims of sexual violence, she believes the criminal justice system needs to change.

“I think the way in which they handle sexual violence and even domestic or intimate partner violence – it’s not great. Most women that I know that have actually been through that system have not had good experience with it, it’s a very rare one who has said ‘yeah, that went really well for me’,” she says.

Cohen has worked at DRCC for 17 years.

“I feel incredibly blessed I really do, I feel very grateful that I’ve been able to work at this job for as long as I’ve been able to,” she says.

She also goes to high schools, organizations and community-based agencies to do presentations.

She says when she presents at high schools she discusses the DRCC’s Youth Sexual Abuse Awareness Prevention program.

“Some of the things that I talk about there are like rape culture, what does that even mean? How do they even understand what that means?How women are portrayed in the media, how women are objectified and sexualized in the media,” she says.

She decided to work in the field involving sexual violence because she’s always been aware and concerned about issues that impact women and girls.

“Growing up I noticed that women did not seem to have the same rights and privileges as men. I knew that I wanted to support and advocate for women’s rights and that I wanted to support and help those who were impacted by violence,” she says.

She went to Centennial College and got her diploma in the Social Service Worker program. She then worked 18 years at Toronto’s Barbra Schlifer Clinic, which supports women who have endured violence.

She says working with trauma survivors can be really difficult and challenging but believes it’s a gift clients give her by allowing themselves to be vulnerable and share their deepest, darkest secrets.

“So I feel like it’s really a gift that they give to me and I guess the gift that I would like to think that I give back to them is I listen, I support, I validate without judgment,” she says.