An internal review by the Dalhousie Student Union of its Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line project found a total of 57 calls made in the 2015-16 academic school year—17 of which were recorded as “legitimate.”
The report, released under a Freedom of Information request, says there were two repeat callers in that 17. The remaining tally was composed of 13 wrong numbers, seven missed calls, 17 hang-ups and 14 referrals to other services. The report also notes there was a two-week period in March where the service was unknowingly inoperable.
“The phone line was never about the number of calls we received,” says DSU vice-president (internal) Rhiannon Makohoniuk. “It’s about knowing someone is there to listen.”
The DSU says the phone line has trained over 100 people in responding to sexualized violence, and received over 200 letters of support, forwarded to Dalhousie president Richard Florizone. Usage statistics weren’t previously disclosed because Makohoniuk says “the DSU did not want the conversation about the phone line to be about the numbers, but a conversation about systemic and ongoing issues of sexual assault on campus.”
It’s unclear how many sexual assaults happen on Halifax campuses, and thus hard to judge how effective the phone line was from its call volume alone. A CBC story in 2015 found 38 reported sexual assaults at Dalhousie University over a four-year period. Canadian universities don’t have to track or publish stats on sexual assaults.
“We know that one-fifth of women are sexually assaulted during their time at university; we know the highest number of assaults happen within the first eight weeks of school; and we also know that racialized, Indigenous, trans and queer students—among others—experience assault at even higher rates,” says Makohoniuk. “Women are harassed every day, and our call volume does not reflect any of that.”
Students at Dalhousie started the 24-hour phone line for survivors of sexual assault last September. The university offered $30,000 in funding for the pilot project, or about half its estimated operating costs. Actual operating costs only came out to $45,000, causing Dal to drop its funding for this school year to $22,500 instead of the full $60,000 requested by DSU.
The student union turned that money down, claiming that accepting it would mean “we wouldn’t be able to hold [Dal] to account.” A condensed phone service, operating daily from noon until midnight for the first eight weeks of school, shut down on November 3.
A spokesperson for Dalhousie says the school remains strongly committed to combatting sexual violence on campus, and that the phone line was one of many support services available to students.
Ed: An earlier version of this story stated Dalhousie declined to provide its data for CBC's 2015 investigation. That's been corrected above.