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Dalhousie Student Union launches sexual assault and harassment phone line

by Moira Donovan

Almost entirely run by student volunteers, a Dalhousie Student Union 24-7 phone line provides support to those who’ve experience sexualized violence.
Almost entirely run by student volunteers, a Dalhousie Student Union 24-7 phone line provides support to those who’ve experience sexualized violence.

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – A phone line at Dalhousie launched last week to provide 24/7 support and information for students who’ve experienced sexualized violence and gender based assault and harassment.

The launch of the service coincided with the beginning of orientation week not only because that’s when students have returned to campus – statically speaking, rates of sexual assault are at their highest during the first eight weeks of the school year. It’s also a time when first years are adjusting to new circumstances, says Dalhousie Student Union VP Internal Kaitlynne Lowe.

“Our primary goal was to reach out to first year students who may find themselves in a situation they’re not equipped to handle.’

Publicizing the phone line made up part of the DSU’s sex talk during orientation week, and the DSU hopes to reach out to upper year students through other on-campus activities. But while students are the target, “no one will be turned away” says Lowe.

Other than one staff coordinator, the phone line is entirely run by student volunteers. Providing support to those who’ve experience sexualized violence might sound like a challenging role for a volunteer, but Lowe says students who are providing support have been provided with roughly 40 hours of training. It’s also intentional, she says, that it’s the students themselves who will be providing support.

“We feel that having the peer to peer model will allow students to be more comfortable when making this call, it’s that first step. Alternatively, having students who are trained and know how to handle these experiences means that we’ll be able to build a community of students who know these issues are going on and will be able to address them.”

The phone line has been in the works for a year, and is funded almost entirely by the DSU. In its current form, it’s a pilot project that’s scheduled to run until October. After that, the coordinators will be looking to the university and beyond for funding to keep it going.

Although the phone line isn’t a response to the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal of last year – the phone line was initially supposed to be launched last September, and predates that scandal – it is also meant to address the broader issues around rape culture and consent that have received so much attention since those events came to light.

“It definitely plays into how the student union and students in general are trying to address rape culture on campus, it demonstrates the knowledge that students have that this is something on campus.”

Last May, the NDP in Nova Scotia introduced a bill mandating that universities work with students to create sexual assault policies with ‘significant input from students’ that would then be regularly updated every four years.

Other support systems that are often seen as essential to effective sexual assault reporting, such as fully funded ombudsperson’s office that makes it easier for students to report harassment or sexism without the risk of being ostracized, were recommended in the report compiled by Dalhousie’s task force on misogyny, sexism and homophobia. Dalhousie dissolved its ombudsperson’s office in 2012.

President Florizone accepted the recommendations of the report, although he made no clear commitments to re-establish the office.

Although the phone line is only one piece of tackling the issues with sexualized violence and harassment on campus, Lowe says she hopes that by providing students with a judgment-free zone in which volunteers are listening, it’ll make it a lot easier for students to talk.

“One of the main key points of the service as we market it is that if you feel like it’s your fault, it’s not your fault and we’re here to listen.

 


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Topics: Gender
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