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Dalhousie Student Union paring down sexual assault helpline due to ‘inadequate’ funding

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The Dalhousie Student Union says its 24-hour sexual assault and harassment phone line is closing early because the university isn’t providing the necessary funding. Steve Silva reports – Aug 29, 2016

Dalhousie University is no longer “adequately” funding the Dal Student Union’s (DSU) Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line, according to a release from the student union.

The phone line, originally a six-week pilot project, started in September 2015 as a way to offer support for students during the time of year when the union says sexual violence is at its peak on university campuses.

The service was extended for another eight weeks when the initial six-week pilot ended. Then after a funding boost of $30,000 from the university, it was extended to run through the end of the year.

READ MORE: ‘A light to students’: Dal sexual assault phone line gets funding, extension

The student union says the lack of funds means it can’t offer the service year-round for students and survivors of sexual violence this year.

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“I think that budgets are about priorities and I think that underfunding something is the same as not supporting it, especially in regard to a service for sexualized violence on campus,” said DSU vice president Rhiannon Makohoniuk.

“So Dalhousie needs to work with students to combat rape culture on campus.”

Dalhousie University says they have offered to continue funding the phone line at 50 per cent of the operating costs — DSU wants 100 per cent funding.

“We looked at … a report that reviewed the program, and that review in addition to a number of areas that we’re investing in, in order to be more strategic and comprehensive in our prevention support and response, we’re balancing out our investments,” said university spokesperson Arig al Shaibah.

The union says they’ve gotten a lot of support for the phone line, with nearly 200 students sending letters to the university’s president, Richard Florizone, asking that the school continue to support the “important tool to combat rape culture on campus.”

“To stop supporting the Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line after a year of gaining trust and recognition from our members goes to show that the University is not truly committed to student’s safety and wellbeing,” Makohoniuk said in the release.

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The union also references the Report of the Task Force on Misogyny, Sexism and Homophobia in the university’s dentistry school, which recommended the school support student led initiatives such as the phone line.

READ MORE: Student leaders tackle consent, sexual assault during orientation

DSU says they will offer the service for the first eight weeks of the semester — Sept. 3 to Nov. 3 — when “sexual assaults on campus are at a high,” however it will be a pared down version.

Seven days a week, from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. the phone line will be available for students and members of the public at 902-425-1066.

Last year, the service was available to students 24 hours a day.

The help line is manned by volunteers who take calls and actively listen to callers, offer support, or suggest services. The volunteers go through special training to equip them for dealing with the various calls they get.

The helpline was on hiatus through the summer.