Dal students start helpline for sexual assault victims

WATCH: Dalhousie students are setting up a 24/7 crisis line for victims of sexual assault. The pilot project starts in the fall and is completely student-run. Julia Wong reports.

HALIFAX – Students at Dalhousie University are starting a crisis line for victims of sexual assault, making the institution the first in the province with this type of service.

Starting September 6, a helpline for victims of sexualized violence will open and run for six weeks as a pilot project. It is being run by the Working Group for Sexual and Gender-based Violence, a student group at the university.

“We’re going to be there as a supportive and non-judgmental safe space to listen and support,” said Kym Sweeny, a member of the working group and the Dalhousie Feminist Legal Association.

“We’re not counselors and we’re not giving advice. But if the caller wants, we will refer them to services and things in the community.”

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The crisis line will be run by student volunteers and one paid student coordinator. It will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service will primarily be advertised on campus but anyone from the community will be able to access it.

“We recognized it as a need with our own students and on our campus,” said Kaitlynne Lowe, the internal vice-president for the DSU.

“Sexualized violence is prevalent on campuses and it’s been an issue for years now and will continue to be an issue unless we start tackling it, unless we start providing support to survivors. This is just one of the ways we can tackle [it].”

The pair said the start of the crisis line was planned to coincide with the beginning of the school year.

“[There will be] A lot of young adults being away from  home for the first time, a large amount of alcohol is being consumed and, to be honest, not a lot of people have had the kind of education around sexual violence and consent that is very necessary,” Sweeny said.
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There is hope that other universities in the province will follow suit. Sweeny would like to see the service offered throughout the school year.

Sweeny said the frosh chant at Saint Mary’s University and the dentistry scandal that has plagued Dalhousie were not catalysts in the creation of the helpline.

“Things were in the works well before the Dalhousie dentistry scandal and the SMU chant happened. We have recognized this as an issue that has long preceded those events,” she said.

“I think those events being in the media right now may have helped propel it and maybe has helped us gain more traction this year in bringing this forward.”

Dalhousie students said they are excited about the service.

“I think that’s actually a really good thing,” said student Vanessa Marsden. “That’s something people should have access to because we know sexual harassment and other issues don’t get reported.”

“I think if there’s a helpline it’s going to help people be more confident and maybe report those issues or get the support they need for them.”

Student Cody Church said a crisis line for sexual assault victims is a necessity.

“It’s a very frightful situation and you need somebody that’s going to be there when you need them,” he said.

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“It’s not something you can call and wait around because when you’re in the moment, you need help. It’s a situation that requires a quick response.”

The crisis line is being funded by the student union. The Dalhousie administration is not playing a role in the service.

Lowe said the student union will consult with the university after the pilot project is wrapped up to determine how to move forward with offering the service to students.


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