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Monday, August 29, 2016

Dalhousie's sexual assault helpline in turmoil

Student union says the university chose to underfund the service.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 29, 2016 at 1:16 PM

VIA DALHOUSIE

Survivors of sexual assault at Dalhousie may only have until November 3 to call the university’s helpline.

The Dalhousie Student Union says right now it can only offer the sexual assault and harassment phone line service for the first eight weeks of classes after being offered inadequate funding from the university’s administration.

Students at Dalhousie started the phone line for survivors of sexual assault last September—a 24-hour service offering support and information for students affected by sexualized or gender-based violence. It began as a pilot project funded primarily through the DSU and community groups. Dalhousie eventually offered $22,500 in funding to see the project through until April.

The service was put on hold this summer as the DSU requested a full $60,000 operational costs in funding for the upcoming school year. Rhiannon Makohoniuk, DSU vice president internal, says the group also presented Dal with a bare minimum request of $30,000 to allow the service to continue. Makohoniuk claims the university returned with an offer of $15,000 in new funding. The DSU turned that money down.

“If we took the money, it would mean we wouldn’t be able to hold them to account,” she says.

“This is something that we really wanted to partner with the university on. This is something that the students and administration should be working together on, and it’s really unfortunate that they decided to underfund and not support this project.”

Janet Bryson, senior communications manager at Dalhousie, writes via email that “after reviewing the actuals of the operating costs of the hotline and considering the results of a report of usage and successes/challenges, the university agreed to renew funding at the same level as the previous year (one half of the $45,000 expense to operate), for one more year.”

That $22,500 includes $7,500 in funds from the original request last year, and $15,000 offered in new funding.

Makohoniuk couldn’t provide figures on how many calls the helpline took last year, but says its importance to Dalhousie isn’t solely measured by those numbers.

“It’s measured by training over 100 people on campus in things like active listening and responding to sexualized violence,” she says. “It’s in promoting a culture of consent on campus, and raising consciousness and capacity on campus, for things like combating rape culture and combating sexualized violence.”

This news comes at a time where students and faculty are voicing outrage at the university’s choice to foot the $300,000 (US) bill for nine Nova Scotian business figures to participate in a Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in October.

The union has chosen to run the phone line on its own for the first eight weeks of the school year, with the help of student levy funds. It will be a “condensed”service, operating from noon until midnight, seven days a week and lasting from September 3 until November 3.

This covers what Makohoniuk says is the “the critical eight-week period at the beginning of the school year with the highest incidences of sexual assault on campus.”

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