VICTORIA -- The B.C. government has earmarked $10 million to support sexual assault response services across B.C. for the next three years.

According to B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, the global COVID-19 pandemic has likely led to an increase in sexual assaults.

“Gender-based violence, including sexual assault, can increase during times of crisis, and that’s why our government continues to prioritize services and supports for survivors of these devastating crimes,” said Farnworth in a release Tuesday.

Farnworth was joined by Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity Mitzi Dean and Tracy Porteous, executive director of Ending Violence Association of BC to announce the new grant program live from Vancouver on Tuesday.

The $10-million fund will be administered as grants to sexual assault response services across B.C. by the Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC).

EVA BC is an anti-violence organization that supports and provides training for local victim service programs.

It also provides counselling through its Stopping the Violence programs and multicultural outreach services across B.C.

While B.C. has not seen an immediate spike in sexual assault reports amid the pandemic, the ministers present at Tuesday’s announcement said they are preparing for an influx of calls once lockdown restrictions are further eased.

"In the first four weeks of the pandemic they (sexual assault services) were saying it was eerily quiet," said Porteous .

"They thought what was happening was survivors were probably behind closed doors in homes where perhaps there was domestic violence going on or where sexual violence is going on or in homes where the offender lived and couldn't call out."

Porteous pointed out that in the last few weeks, there have been more referrals for sexual assault services from police.

She adds that while other violent crimes in Canada are on the decline, sexual assault reports are on the rise.

"Early intervention, as well as emotional and practical support for survivors, have proven to be lifesaving," Porteous said.

"This move today by our government will provide survivors with the emergency care they need to begin to heal, and we look most forward to working with community anti-violence services, Indigenous communities and the Province to further the network of support for survivors in B.C."