January 30, 2017 – Our hearts break for the family of Kassidi Coyle, who died by suicide four months after a man was charged with sexually assaulting her. Since her death, her mother Judi Coyle has been advocating for more resources to help sexual assault survivors, noting that Kassidi was put on a waiting list for counselling at her local rape crisis centre and took her life two weeks before her first appointment.
Waiting lists for counselling are a continuing problem for sexual assault support centres across Ontario, says Lenore Lukasik-Foss, the chair of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.
At the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, counsellor and activist Deb Singh said they have one of the shorter waiting lists for free, continuing counselling at five months. “We need more counsellors and we need more funding to pay those counsellors who have a critical understanding of sexual violence, of intimate partner violence,” Singh said. “There are people out there who want to do these jobs . . . and we are not wanting for the amount survivors out there. We know the rates at which women in Canada are experiencing sexual violence.”
Kassidi was scheduled to have an appointment at Athena’s Sexual Assault Counselling and Advocacy Centre in Barrie, according to her mother.
Kathy Willis, the executive director of Huronia Transition Homes, which includes Athena’s, said waitlist times fluctuate between one and three months, although it is possible to get crisis appointments and for cases to be fast-tracked. Willis said she could not comment on what happened in Kassidi’s case due to privacy concerns, but says her death is a tragedy that shows the terrible impact sexual violence can have.
“We try a number of different strategies internally for waitlists, but we could absolutely use probably two more full-time counselling positions,” she said. But, she said, the organization is doing its best with the resources they have. “(It) doesn’t mean survivors shouldn’t be contacting sexual assault centres. We would never leave a woman who is struggling with the impacts of sexual assault by herself, without access to service,” she said.
Lukasik-Foss points to an increase of 50 per cent in crisis line calls last year to the Hamilton-based centre where she is the director. “We know the need for support but we are not able to keep up with demand in many of the centres. That is just the reality,” she said. “We are seeing more people reaching out as there is more public education . . . but we need to be able to support them as well.” In particular, she said, there is a need for more long-term therapy options.
Lukasik-Foss said sexual assault support centres provide a number of different resources beyond one-on-one counselling; most offer group sessions, drop-in groups, art-based therapy programs and one-off workshops. They can assist with criminal injury compensation claims and accompany sexual assault victims to hospitals to process a rape kit or to the police to make a report.
24-hour crisis lines remain crucial (with interpretation available), but work is being done to provide text or live chat, she said. She added that crisis lines are also open to parents, friends and partners of sexual assault survivors.
But there are still many barriers to sexual assault survivors accessing services, particularly if they live in a rural community, she said. More also needs to be done to support people going through the criminal court process, beyond the pilot program offering four hours of free legal advice, she says.
“We want to be able to meet the needs of all survivors, young and old, newcomers, indigenous, francophone, LGBT, sex workers,” Lukasik-Foss said
But it can’t just be sexual assault centres that do the heavy lifting when it comes to supporting victims of sexual violence, said Farrah Khan, the sexual violence education and support coordinator at Ryerson University. “How can we have trauma and sexual violence informed mental health services?” she said. “What emergency supports are available?” It’s important to connect people with supports and resources while they are waiting for specialized services, she added, whether it is through sexual assault centres, hospitals, community-based organizations or online. “This is such an epidemic that everyone needs to be trained on this.”
We agree. It is critical that survivors be able to access potentially life-saving supports such as counselling at the time when they need them. How, in a province where there is an Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, are women are still forced to wait months and months for counselling? It is time for the province to step up and fund additional full time counselling positions at all of the sexual assault and rape crisis centres across Ontario to actually ensure more choices and better outcomes for survivors through the justice system.
How one young man turned shock and fear into forgiveness
By: Kurtis Herrington
On the morning of Monday, April 24, 2000, Art and Marjorie arrived at their daughter Cory’s Winnipeg apartment, only to find their three-year-old grandson alone, peacefully asleep. It didn’t take them long to realize that their daughter was nowhere to be found, and that something was clearly not right. Soon after, Art and Marjorie contacted the authorities, and what ensued is undoubtedly the worst day of their lives.
The little boy’s name is Owen, and on the day before his grandparents found him, his mother was brutally murdered in his presence by her estranged boyfriend. Over the following day investigators were able to connect the dots, which lead to the apprehension of the perpetrator. A thorough investigation resulted in the offender confessing to the murder, and leading them to where he concealed Cory’s body under his grandmother’s cottage. He was charged with second-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after ten years served. Although a seemingly proportionate sentence, it serves as little reparation for the inconceivable loss experienced by Owen, Art and Marjorie, for the murder of their beloved family member.
Owen has had a tough road; navigating his childhood and adolescence without the guidance and love of his biological mother. In addition to the impact this left on Owen’s emotional wellbeing, he has also had to deal with psychological repercussions, including an ongoing diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder during his elementary school years. This seems to have been kept in check since Owen has taken many steps for self-care. While his loving and capable grandparents Art and Marjorie assumed custody of their grandson, Owen was still left with an unimaginable void in his life due to the irrational, hateful, and brutal acts of the offender.
At the age of nineteen, Owen has had to endure more hardships than most will have to within their entire lives. In turn, he has had no choice but to grow up fast, leading to the mature, assured, and spiritual man he is today. During his recent four-month Bible school semester in Costa Rica, Owen was able to take considerable time to reflect on his life through prayer, and try and make meaningful interpretations of the events that he has experienced. It was on this trip that Owen came to a startling conclusion; he wanted to confront the offender in a face-to-face meeting with the hopes of better understanding why he murdered his mother, and potentially offer forgiveness for the heinous acts he committed. He felt he needed to let go of the past.
In August of 2016, Owen made the difficult trip to British Columbia, where his mother’s killer is currently imprisoned. On the 26th of August, Owen sat across from the offender, with the accompaniment of a mediator and a support person. The meeting was long, lasting two hours in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon. Finally, Owen was offered the chance to confront the evil monster he had built up in his head for all of those years.
Owen’s main intention going into this meeting was to find out who the offender was, and try to understand how he could have possibly done what he did. He didn’t want to carry around the anger he was feeling any longer, and he hoped to finally find a sense of peace. Over the course of the encounter, the offender was able to explain the details of what happened, and try and convey the context of who he was at the time of Cory’s murder. He talked about his difficult childhood, his struggles with substance abuse, and explained that his crime was a result of jealousy and anger. Although this could not have been easy to hear, Owen felt that the offender was open and honest with him, and that he had genuine remorse for his crime.
Following the events of that day, Owen describes a personal sense of peace, and said that the meeting was an overall success. He felt he could finally forgive the offender for what he did to his mother, and that their interaction could potentially set him on the right path. Owen’s grandfather Art also describes how Owen’s demeanor has become calmer since the meeting, and that he believes he has come away a more confident and strong individual.
Owen is an impressive young man and will undoubtedly take what he has learned from this restorative justice encounter, and try apply it to his life. He is a very driven individual, and has recently applied to the University of Winnipeg, the Armed Forces Reserves, and the United Nations to become a youth ambassador.
Although Owen’s healing journey continues, his progress has been tremendous. He serves as an example of the difficult path a victim of crime must endure, but also how one can come out the other side a stronger, stable and more understanding individual. Owen’s story serves as an inspiration to other young people impacted by violence. The CRCVC is excited to see where his life will lead him, and everything he will be able to accomplish along the way.