Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre Board of Directors Community Update Nov 12, 2020

November 12, 2020

Change is never easy, but it is often necessary to realize a more robust, sustainable, and successful future for an organization. This is especially true for a small non-profit like the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC) that has such a rich legacy in our feminist and activist communities.

While the members of the Board are relatively new to the ORCC, the majority of us have dedicated our careers and lives to supporting survivors of sexual violence through our community work and dedication to the public sectors. We bring in-depth, current, on-the-ground experience in the development and delivery of programs rooted in best practices that are directly responsive to the trauma that results from sexual violence. And we know, from hands-on experience, what it means to embed integrity and ethical practices into every aspect of service delivery.

More than that though, we are committed to the incredibly rich feminist histories and social justice values of the ORCC. We will ensure that as we move forward, the ORCC’s work continues to be rooted in these values. And we will ensure that ORCC continues to uphold and navigate ethical and best practices in service delivery for survivors of gender-based violence for decades to come.

Unfortunately, the current organizational model and program infrastructure is so overwhelmed with constant struggles that it hasn’t been able to truly and meaningfully adapt to the complex and diverse needs of survivors. Shifting from in-person to online counselling requires more than just handing out laptops, cellphones, and making sure that staff have working internet connections in their home offices. It requires significant investments in secure platforms, recordkeeping databases, and other safeguards that protect the privacy and confidentiality of service user information. As a Board, it is our ethical responsibility to make sure that any shift in this direction is done in a manner that protects our service users, first and foremost. This means that we have to be in a position to invest the necessary time and money to make sure this is a successful effort.

We also know that telephone counselling makes it very challenging to properly support survivors. It is invaluable for crisis intervention, so that individuals can be bridged to critical resources. But for longer- term support, our counsellors need to be able to pick up on non-verbal cues that a service user might be in distress during a session. Yes, we have been able to provide some short-term counselling support by phone during the pandemic, but this has been a stop-gap solution at best. Given that the pandemic will be a reality for the foreseeable future, we must make a shift to both online and in-person counselling as quickly as possible. Doing so safely and ethically will take time.

We must uphold our promise to provide quality, ethical, and responsible support to our survivors while also grounding our practice and advocacy work in feminist and intersectional values. To do so, we need to restructure our operations in a manner that ensures we make the necessary shifts in a matter of months. The alternative is attempting to implement piece-meal solutions over the next one to two years, or possibly even longer, while the pandemic is a reality.

We started this process with the best of intentions, and that is how we will continue. Every single one of us joined this Board because we knew that the ORCC was struggling and needed help. Right now, we are committed to properly and responsibly transitioning our service users to other providers who understand the importance of trauma-informed praxis and intersectional issues. And, we are diligently pursuing arrangements that will ensure they are not simply added on to a waitlist with another organization. We anticipate being able to provide more information about this process in the coming days and will be posting ongoing updates to our website and social media platforms.

Once we have formalized arrangements with other service providers that will be able to support during this temporary closure, we will diligently re-build the fundamental infrastructure that supports ethical and responsible service delivery in a modernized and responsive manner. This will include the integration of new mechanisms to ensure accountability, transparency, and community involvement. To start, we will be launching a strategic planning process, complete with a robust community consultation period, that will engage community members in a meaningful way as we look to design the future ORCC. Our partners and allies from the violence against women sector will be integral to this process, and we are committed to ensuring their engagement.

It must also be said that the process that lies ahead will mark the first time in the ORCC’s history that a community consultation of this nature has been undertaken. And born out of this consultation and strategic planning period, the ORCC will come back better positioned to serve the needs of our community.

We know that this process has not been perfect, and we are deeply humbled by the support and concerns of our communities. Right now, we have to focus, first and foremost, on our service users. To survivors who have turned to the ORCC for support: your safety, wellbeing, and care continue to be our sole priority. To you, we apologize for being unable to properly serve you in this moment. We are confident that we will find you alternative, accessible services that can provide trauma-informed support in a timely manner. We will not let you down.

We apologize to the community for being unable to provide more details at this time. We cannot provide any further comment until we have formalized arrangements with partners in the coming days and weeks; but we will provide more information as soon as we are able. Until then, please know, we are listening and hear your concerns.

Yours in Solidarity,

The Members of the ORCC’s Board of Directors