(By: Sarah Chew)
If you or someone you know has ever experienced any form of sexual violence, whether it be unwanted sexual attention, street harassment (i.e. catcalling), physical assault, or even hearing a joke about rape, there’s a hotline for that.
Imagine having someone readily available to talk to you, who understands the reality of university life, the histories of colonial violence and the undeniable existence (and influence) of rape culture.
The Sexual Assault Survivor’s Support Line (SASSL) is the Ryerson Students’ Union’s own phone line run by Cassandra Myers, the student co-ordinator (a.k.a. chief).
SASSL has existed on campus for nearly five years now, but it was recently revamped with a new curriculum that includes racialized, queer and trans people, all done by Myers just this year. She now describes it as “a peer-to-peer support line for all genders. It’s completely anonymous and confidential.”
Ryerson students can call into the hotline from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Giving survivors a listening ear is the line’s first priority, said Myers, whether students wish to share their toughest experiences, or simply talk about their day.
“We are here to talk through any kind of confusion you might have, hurt feelings, any kind of fear you may have,” said Myers. “You can tell us as much or as little as you want. We’re here to support you and hold space.”
All Myers’ efforts the past year have been backed by her strong belief that SASSL is greatly needed on campus. She cited the results of a recent RSU survey of 600 students, which revealed that “70 per cent of students fear experiencing sexual violence often or on a constant basis.” She also reported that “50 per cent of those students said that they themselves or someone they knew experienced sexual violence and they wished they had someone to talk to about it.”
Official statistics to back it up
The Government of Canada website notes a 15 per cent drop from 2006 to 2016 in the rate of police-reported sexual assault, and states that sexual assault crimes often go unreported.
In fact, according to General Social Survey data from 2014, only five per cent of sexual assaults experienced by Canadians aged 15 and older were brought to police’s attention.
However, according to a 2015 CBC News investigation, out of the 87 universities and major colleges surveyed in Canada, more sexual assaults were reported to Ryerson University in a five-year period than any other university or college.
In a CBC News article covering the results, experts say that these results don’t necessarily mean that the rate of sexual assaults is higher at Ryerson, but that perhaps “the school is doing a better job of encouraging students to come forward and report incidents.”
SASSL represents one way the RSU is attempting to better provide their peers with physical and mental aid and resources.
Volunteers of the phone line are trained to know Ryerson’s sexual assault policy, other applicable university services, the location of Toronto’s sexual clinics, as well as information about evidence kits, abortion and birth control so as to be fully prepared for callers. Also, according to Myers, the hotline has a database with contacts to resources such as the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, Women’s College Hospital, Humewood House and more to direct callers to the long-term help they need.
Why Myers encourages students to get involved
Aside from the obvious benefits the line poses to callers, volunteers can leave with valuable learning experience. Myers said she thinks volunteers develop “a confidence, a toolkit. We really do give very concrete tools on how to support people – not only survivors, but just in general.”
Training occurs the first few weeks of every school semester, is completely free, and trainees are given the choice to commit or not commit to the line after training – no strings attached. As Myers said, “At the end of the day, it’s sexual violence training,” which is useful to any student on campus.
“And if you’re not fit for the line,” added Myers, “We would love to have you in our outreach services, on the research side of things, just to help out with putting up posters, or handing out materials.”