Starting April 14, the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) began offering its services online to provide additional options for sexual harassment survivors, replacing in-person services which are temporarily suspended due to COVID-19.
According to Annette Angell, SASC’s manager, the SASC support service is currently receiving an increased rate of phone calls, reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 on sexual violence.
“Nothing can replace in-person services, but the updates we’ve implemented to the SASC’s services provide more options for survivors to choose from depending on their needs and the barriers they are facing right now,” said Angell in a statement to The Ubyssey.
Regular support services are offered in forms of phone calls and email messages within the normal operating hours. Messaging apps, video conferencing and telehealth platforms, such as Signal, Zoom and Doxy.me, are incorporated as part of SASC’s daily operations.
Currently, SASC is proposing to allocate $10,000 of its fees to a trauma counselling emergency fund, aiming to expand the access to trauma-informed counselling services for students affected by COVID-19.
$2,000 will go to establish the Trans Youth Online Support Group and $500 will support the Roots and Resilience Support Group. From April 23 onwards, the latter has been accessible virtually through Zoom.
The remaining $7,500 will be available for students who wish to access one-on-one counselling services with a practitioner of the student’s choice. Students will be eligible for a $125 subsidy from the fund per appointment after they have exhausted “any existing extended benefits options, if it is safe to do so” according to an April submission to AMS Council.
Domestic violence calls on the rise
Angell explained that “physical distancing requirements combined with stress around job loss and health can create an environment ripe for abuse,” which has resulted in the increased amount of calls received.
“This is not unique to the SASC but also around the world due to the pandemic. One in ten women in Canada have reported that they were concerned about violence in the home and some crisis lines have seen up to a 300 per cent increase in calls,” said Angell in a statement.
To make the matter worse, social distancing makes it harder to access necessary support.
“For those who are staying at home with an abusive partner or other family members, calling over the phone can be unsafe. For others, they may not have the privacy to make a phone call,” said Angell.
In Angell’s words, abuse is about exerting power and control over someone. And COVID-19 provides another tool abusers can use to limit autonomy and increase violence. Additionally, survivors of abuse might have fewer opportunities to spend time outside the home or make plans to leave.
As a result, finding a safe communication method is a priority to the SASC team. According to Angel, text messaging appears to be the safest and most accessible option for them.
“The first thing support workers do when someone reaches out is confirm whether this method of communication is the safest for them,” said Angell.
“Privacy and confidentiality are critically important to us and we will work to find a way that is as safe as possible and continue to provide support [for survivors].”
SASC can be reached for sexual assault support at 604.827.5180 or email@example.com.