On April 5, 2017, the Globe and Mail reported that Halifax Regional Police signed on to a campaign that encouraged people to “start by believing” when it came to filed crimes of sexual assault.
Nova Scotia, which Statistics Canada reports has the highest rate of sexual assault per any Atlantic province, has experienced a shift in social culture. The shift became more noticeable due to the social justice rallies for victims of sexual violence, such as the rally following the acquittal of taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi, who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman found incoherent and naked in his cab.
The judge who acquitted Al-Rawi, Judge Gregory Lenehan, also faced backlash from his comments that, “clearly a drunk can consent.”
While the statistics can be discouraging, groups across Halifax are fighting back and offering counselling, support, and medical services to survivors of any gender.
On Dalhousie University campus, the relaunch of the Dalhousie Sexual Assault and Harassment Phone Line will be available for students in September. Sarah Trower, Communications and Outreach Manager for the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), said the phone line “is an active listening and information 24/7 phone line for anyone who has experienced any type of sexualized or gender-based violence, or someone who may be supporting someone who has experienced violence.”
The phone line will be based out of the Survivor Support Centre, which is a new addition of support services to be launched this fall. The purpose of the centre is to provide on-campus support that focuses on advocacy, education and service delivery for survivors of sexual assault. The centre will be operated by the DSU, staff and student volunteers.
Off of the Dalhousie campus, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and the Halifax Sexual Health Centre are resources for survivors of sexual assault, and offer medical assistance or referrals.
The Avalon Centre offers services to women and trans people in three main pillars: counselling, community and professional training and a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
Counselling is available for any woman or trans person who is 16-years old or older, and is based on needs. The centre tries to work away from pathology and instead build on agency and choice in each survivor’s own decisions in healing.
The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner is for a woman or trans person of any age, and can be accessed at the hospital or by calling the Nurse Examiner hotline and having them meet the individual at the hospital. The examiner is focused on immediate medical care, and offers to perform a rape kit if the survivor wishes. Then, the survivor can choose to have the rape kit delivered to the police, or be put on file for a 6-month period.
Dee Dooley, Regional Coordinator for Avalon, said “We are here as a community resource, and we are here to help survivors in their healing journey.”
If a survivor does not identify as a woman or trans person, then the Halifax Sexual Health Centre offers counselling, medical services, and treatment to survivors as well. Survivors can receive counselling and medical assessment after an assault, as well STI/STD testing, anonymous HIV/AIDs testing, and pregnancy tests.
If a survivor of a sexual assault needs a peer support group that is gender-inclusive, South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre offers resources, education materials, and can also make informal referrals. South House’s focus is on being a “welcoming, safe and supportive environment.”
For immediate medical or legal action in the case of a sexual assault, a survivor can call 811 and talk to a registered nurse, or call the Halifax Regional Police Victim Services line where they can report the crime and receive assistance in the next steps.
Supports and services for survivors of sexual assault are growing in Halifax and on-campus. As the Dalhousie Student Union says in its campaign for improved survivor support services at the school, “you are not alone, it is never your fault, we believe you.”