By Jes Mason and Emma Sandri
Ryerson’s Sexual Assault Survivor Support Line (SASSL) has seen a lower volume of calls this year, according to the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS) coordinator Sydney Bothwell.
SASSL is a peer support helpline for those who have been affected by sexual violence. It was launched in 2011 but is now operated by the Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) C3SVS, which was created in January 2019.
Bothwell said she could not provide the exact number of calls the centre received this year for confidentiality reasons, but the number of calls were lower in comparison to last year.
“We experience a lot more volume [of calls] toward the end of the year. [At the] beginning of the year, not so much,” she said in a Nov. 19 interview.
When asked why she thinks there is lower engagement with the line this year, Bothwell said she believes that students and survivors at Ryerson are looking for “different forms of programming and different services” offered by the C3SVS.
“We have students coming every single week to get reimbursements for Plan B and pregnancy tests,” she said. “We have our Black women and non-binary healing groups, so we have a core group of folks that come to that every month.”
“I think students are looking for more community building and healing work, as opposed to just a one-off support.”
Closing the line
In an interview on Nov. 18, the RSU’s executive director Reanna Maharaj said there have been “talks about shutting down the phone line.” But the operation of the line was mandated in a referendum, according to Maharaj. As a result, the union must “keep it running.”
The referendum was passed in 2018 and successfully levied $10 from each student, with $5 each towards SASSL and the Good Food Centre.
“We want to service survivors at Ryerson best,” said Bothwell. “If survivors are giving us feedback that we’re putting all this money into the line and people aren’t really utilizing it, and that money could better be spent elsewhere…then of course that’s always a conversation we’ll keep open.”
Based on feedback received so far, a discussion of closing the line is still on the table, says Bothwell.
Naja Pereira, vice-president equity of the RSU, said that Ryerson students would be consulted before a decision is made to close the line.
“Sydney [and I don’t] believe in closing the line just without anyone being consulted, because students are the ones who voted for [it] to become an essential service,” she said. “If it were to be a situation where it’s in the best interest—from our perspective—to close the line, it’s not just going to be closed one day.”
The line has been paid for until the end of January 2020, according to Bothwell.
According to Maharaj, the line does not have enough volunteers to support its operations. She said that until there are more volunteers, the line will only be running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bothwell said that due to the confidentiality of the line, she cannot give the exact number of volunteers supporting the line, but there are “a number” of volunteers who are still going through the training process.
“[I am] taking on a lot of [the] responsibility of the phone line, just because obviously I have certain standards that volunteers need to reach…in order to be eligible to work on the line,” she said.
According to Bothwell, there is always someone available to answer the line from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
The line’s hours are listed differently on the RSU’s website than on the C3SVS website. On the C3SVS page on rsuonline.ca, SASSL’s hours are listed as 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On C3SVS’ own website, the hours are listed as 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
“If someone is to call the line between…[12 p.m. and 12 a.m.], then either myself, one of the coordinators or one of our volunteers [will pick up],” she said. “If we’re already on the line with somebody else, their call will be automatically be redirected to the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.”
Perriera said that for three months of service, the line costs just over $1,000 — and can receive 10,000 calls.
“I think that in regards to like the volunteers…we’re just really working towards some sort of, I guess, resolution for lack of a better term, where we can get better support” she said. “We’ve been inquiring with finance about what our capacity is, and hopefully bringing on someone else to hold training.”
Perriera said that they don’t want to see the line go, but want it to “thrive” and to “flourish.”