Photo: Chelsea Pottage

RSU to launch sexual assault hotline

In Communities /

By Alvina Siddiqui

Beginning January 2012, the Ryerson Students’ Union will run a new student-run hotline for sexually-assaulted women.

“[The idea] came out of a global need,” said RSU president, Caitlin Smith.

Smith served the notion in April and since then, the Women’s Centre, which is an RSU sub-committee, has been leading the project.

Smith believes the initiative is necessary as this is something “we were lacking.”
“[The hotline] is a result of knowledge of sexual assaults on campus,” said Women’s Centre staff member, Liana Salvador.

According to Ryerson security archives, there were eight reported sexual assaults or attempts at sexual assaults in 2011. These numbers do not include the acts of public indecency, and the four times males were reported seen in the women’s washroom.
This is a decrease from the 14 sexual assaults that were reported on campus in 2002.
But sexual assault incidents are chronically under-reported, according to Salvador.
Despite multiple active support lines around downtown Toronto, the RSU hotline for sexually assaulted women will prove beneficial to students because they are more
comfortable talking to their peers as they can better understand, according to Smith.
For Salvador, this support line differs because it is an opportunity to talk to your peers with “no strings attached.”

But women across campus were split on that statement.

“I would feel more comfortable with a hotline with students and peers. I find that when an adult is on the other side of the phone, I feel judged,” said fourth-year early childhood development student, Jen Amante. “When there is someone my age or someone who has experienced something I have, I would feel safe sharing my story.”

But first-year business management student, Deepika Saini, disagrees.

“I’d rather talk to adults or counselors because they’re more experienced, in life and in helping people with their problems. Plus, I think students just might not be as mature,” she said as she received approving nods from her friends.

But even as some students may prefer to talk to their peers due to similar age groups and thus similar understandings, many women going to Ryerson are in fact grown adults or mothers returning to school or even adult staff members.

The hotline, which is for survivors of sexual assault and being led by the Women’s Centre, is directed at women only.

But sexual assault on males is an important issue that is not usually considered, according to Saini.

Just this week, Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, was involved in a scandal that involved the sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy.

While the hotline will not turn away any calls made by those who identify themselves as men or boys, according to Smith, only women are allowed to volunteer for the phone service.

“But we’re making absolutely sure that we have the resources to send those students to places they are trained to deal with male-identifying students,” said Salvadore.

Though the initiative has one male student who has asked to volunteer, he was told he could only volunteer with advertising, organization, helping put together the training manual and outreach, but could not actually work the phone line.

So far, there are 15 female volunteers.

All the volunteers will be given formal training before the hotline can officially open. The training is provided with the help of non-profit organizations such as The Assaulted Women’s Helpline, who send over workers and coordinators to train the volunteers.

“We feel there are not enough services. We think this service, [RSU’s hotline], compliments us,” said AWHL training resource and outreach coordinator Margaret Arnason.

The volunteers have gone through two training sessions and are scheduled for two more so far to officially complete their training for the time being, according to Smith.

Each training session lasts between two to three hours. The volunteers are not trained to provide counselling but refer callers to appropriate resources and act as a safe place to talk. Their goal is to act as a voice for survivors of sexual assault and to reassure those callers the acts been done to them were wrong.

“We learn the purpose of the line, reasons people call, knowing your social location, like equity issues, self-care and the legality of running a support line,” said Salvador.

The hotline aims to eventually start teaching new volunteers through a trainer-to-trainer or peer-to-peer system.

Smith hopes this system can begin after the volunteers have had about a year’s worth of experience so that instead of having to call organizations every time, the hotline can “sustain a collective work,” she said.

The hotline, which will have a web-based number, is scheduled to be open and available to students between 8 a.m. and 1 a.m. seven days a week, though further goals are to extend the service to 24 hours.

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