April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month — an opportunity remind the Dal community about campus supports, resources and services available to both survivors of sexual assault themselves and those providing support to survivors.
Dal’s Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention (HREHP) provides confidential service to all members of the Dalhousie community seeking advice, support, and conflict resolution related to sexual assault, as well as harassment, discrimination, interpersonal conflict and respectful communities/interactions.
“Our advisors are trained in trauma-informed response and are here to provide guidance, support and direct members of our community to other services and supports both on- and off-campus,” says Nicole McKeever, acting advisor, harassment prevention/conflict management. McKeever adds that that the office’s services are confidential, and that just because an individual chooses to consult with the office doesn’t mean they have to make a formal complaint.
“We take a survivor-centred approach to complaints as they come forward,” she says. “We advise survivors on the supports and processes available to them and help guide them.”
The office has also helped prepare Sexual Assault Response Guidelines for Dalhousie, a useful guide to faculty, staff and other campus leaders to learn how to respond and provide information to individuals who report sexual assault. This past year, HREHP has added an education advisor (Shakira Weatherdon) and expanded its education and outreach to include RESPECT reps (student staff peer educators), a Bystander Intervention program, and an online module on alcohol use and consent together with Dalhousie Student Union and Student Services.
More resources: dal.ca/dalrespect/resources
Support and partnership
As indicated, HREHP is not alone in many of these endeavours. “We work with many partners to promote a safe and respectful culture on campus,” says McKeever. These groups include the likes of Student Health Services, Security services, Residence Life, Dalhousie Student Union, South House, and Counselling and Psychological Services — all of which are groups where students can also go to for support.
“Sexual assault awareness, support and prevention are all important priorities for our staff,” says Melissa MacKay, associate director of student life at Dalhousie.
In residence this past semester, HREHP and Student Services collaborated on Healthy Relationship workshops using pop-culture texts to talk about consent, relationship violence, alcohol harms, etc. Both professional and student staff in Residence Life are trained in trauma-informed response and can support survivors who come forward.
So can Dal Security, who in addition to support and advice also offers the DalSAFE mobile app, providing quick and easy access not only to its services but also other personal safety resources, such as the Tiger Patrol ride-home service.
There when you call
One of the major initiatives the Dalhousie Student Union has launched in this area over the past year is its sexual assault and harassment phone line. The service, staffed by volunteers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a confidential, peer-to-peer phone line for people who have experienced sexual and/or gender-based violence or harassment.
“We’re there to provide that voice of support,” says Kaitlynne Lowe, vice-president internal of the Dalhousie Student Union. “It gives people an opportunity to seek support while staying fully anonymous and safe. They can call at any point, it’s accessible and there’s always someone there, night and day.”
Launched as a pilot project last September, the service has continued through the academic year thanks to a number of different financial supporters, including Dalhousie University itself. Its volunteers — close to 100 trained so far — each receive at least 30 hours of training and work in eight-hour shifts supporting callers.
Lowe says that feedback from both the volunteers and those who’ve used the phone line (number: 902-425-1066) has been very positive, and feels the service has made its own contribution to the important conversation around sexualized and gender-based violence.
“I think it’s been really instrumental in keeping that conversation going in a positive way, in a way that promotes consent culture and positive reporting culture and ending rape culture. It’s putting forward that message that we believe survivors and we’re here to listen to them, no matter what the situation: you’re not alone.”
The phone line will be going on hiatus on April 25, as the majority of its student volunteers are unavailable during the summer months. A review of the service is currently underway, with an eye towards identifying ways it can continue going forward.
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