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Alberta-wide text and chat line launches amid increased demand for sexual assault services

WATCH ABOVE: A new province-wide support tool for sexual violence survivors launched in Alberta on Monday. Kendra Slugoski has the details on Alberta One Line.

Dramatically increased demand for sexual assault services in Alberta has led to a new service aimed at better connecting survivors to local specialized services. And it’s all available through your smartphone.

Alberta’s One Line launched on Monday. The talk/text/chat line provides private, confidential support and information to survivors of sexual violence.

“It’s just one more step in making sure survivors have the resources that they need when they need them,” said Mary Jane James, CEO of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

The service is in response to the “dramatically increased demand” for sexual assault services following the #IBelieveYou and #MeToo movements, according to the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services.

“We’ve known for years that people are most likely to reach out to friends and family after experiencing sexual violence,” AASAS CEO Deb Tomlinson said.

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“When they’re ready, One Line is the next step. This technology provides access, control, anonymity and psychological safety for survivors that makes it easier for them to reach out. We want survivors to know: we believe you; it’s not your fault; and when you’re ready, help is only a smartphone away.”

READ MORE: Overcoming abuse: How to support and respect survivors of family violence

Before this, localized phone numbers were available in Edmonton, Calgary and central Alberta. James said it’s unlikely they would have received many calls from outside those areas.

The province-wide service came after a successful similar model used in central Alberta.

“Red Deer was the first sexual assault agency in Canada that had this available, this text and chat line,” James explained.

“So when we were talking about implementing this, we really took our cues — what worked, what didn’t work, what was really effective, what wasn’t so much — so they were really the pioneers and we piggybacked on them.”

Watch below: Mary Jane James, CEO of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, joins Global News at Noon Edmonton to talk about the launch of Alberta One Line. 

Alberta-wide text/chat line now available for sexual assault victims
Alberta-wide text/chat line now available for sexual assault victims

One Line will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, by trained, specialized responders. Anyone can reach out for support, but the text and chat elements are specifically geared toward younger people, as young women make up the largest demographic of survivors, according to the AASAS.

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“Text and chat are the dominant forms of communication among this demographic,” the AASAS said in a media release Monday. “But One Line is not exclusively for younger people. Alberta’s One Line is here to support all people who have experienced or been impacted by any form of sexual violence. That is child sexual abuse, sexual assault or sexual harassment, whether it was recent or years ago.”

READ MORE: Statistics Canada report finds self-reported sexual assault rates steady over 10 years

The AASAS said text and chat are “highly effective means of initial support.” It’s hoped One Line will also help increase access for people in rural parts of the province, where services might not be as readily available.

“Rural centres do not have the same access to crisis support common in urban centres, yet the rate of sexual violence is often higher in rural areas relative to population,” the AASAS said. “One Line will lever the services of larger urban centres to provide emotional support, information and referral across regions. Where possible, survivors will be connected to the services nearest to them.”

The AASAS said in some centres, demand for sexual assault service has more than doubled following the #IBelieveYou and #MeToo movements.

The #IBelieveYou campaign launched in Alberta in 2016 and encourages sexual assault victims to share their experiences with family, friends, counsellors and police.

James said it’s hard to say exactly whether the increase is due to more cases of sexual violence, or more people reporting incidents. Only about five to six per cent of sexual assault cases are ever reported to police, she said.

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“That doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t reaching out for the help that they need, it just hasn’t been a comfortable or safe process for them to report to police,” she said.

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“That really centres around their fear of not being believed and the shame and the blame and the victim blaming and the judgement that accompanies sexual violence, and it is a very complicated issue.”

READ MORE: ‘I believe you’ campaign means more Albertans know how to respond to sexual assault

One Line, which is a partnership with the Alberta government, can be reached at 1-866-403-8000. Responders will listen, provide support and information and resources to help in the next steps in the caller’s healing journey.

Services through One Line are available in more than 200 languages. After-hours support is available through the Central Alberta Sexual Assault and Support Centre.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence, there are additional supports available. 

The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton can be reached 24 hours a day at 1-780-423-4121.

Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse can be reached toll free at 1-877-237-5888.

The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services can be reached at 1-403-237-6905.

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