Help for sexual assault just a phone call away, though the problem isn’t disappearing

Montreal Sexual Assault Centre launches a re-branded Sexual Violence Helpline

A province-wide 24-hour phone referral service for victims of sexual violence was given a new name and an official send-off last week, refocusing attention on a problem that continues to impact women, but also increasingly men, children and the elderly.

Deborah Trent, director of the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre (MSAC), announced the new name of the Sexual Violence Helpline during a webconference held in conjunction with representatives from other similarly-mandated organizations.

‘One victim too many’

Previously known as the Provincial Helpline for Victims of Sexual Assault, the renamed Sexual Violence Helpline has been operating 24/7 for more than 10 years thanks to a partnership with the Quebec Justice Ministry.

According to the MSAC, the rebranding takes place as the helpline continues its mandate to provide assistance to a greater number of people affected by all forms of sexual violence. The group says in a press release that “every victim of sexual violence, no matter what form it takes, is one victim too many.”

Cases are increasing

“Reported cases of cyber violence and sexual exploitation have only increased in recent years,” said Deborah Trent, director of the MSAC. “Sexual violence is pervasive. We were initially mandated to help people who had been sexually assaulted, but we quickly adapted our services to respond to calls related to harassment, cyber violence and particularly sexual exploitation.

Clockwise from the top left, Mylène Gauthier, Coordinator of the Provincial Helpline for Victims of Sexual Assault at the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre, webconference moderator Véronique Saumure, Deborah Trent, Director and Spokesperson for the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre and Roxanne Ocampo, Communications Officer for the Regroupement québécois des Centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel, are seen here during the web launch of the Sexual Violence Helpline.

“Having been in operation for over 10 years, our team of telephone counsellors is on the front lines, providing support in both French and English across Quebec. When the need for support arises, whether for sexual violence that occurred recently or in the past, the source for resources is always available.”

Getting the message out

According to the MSAC, too many people in the greater Montreal region are still unaware of the existence of the Sexual Assault Helpline. They say that people from all walks of life, no matter where they are in the province, should have access to this kind of support as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

The organization feels that the new branding, combined with an increased presence in the digital sphere – particularly on social media – will allow more people to find their way more easily to the help offered by the Sexual Violence Helpline when it is needed.

“For us, the issue is not to encourage victims of sexual violence to follow a specific path, but rather to ensure that they are welcomed, listened to and supported every step of the way, no matter what path they choose,” said Roxanne Ocampo of the Regroupement québécois des CALACS (Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel).

Leaving no one behind

“To do this, there must be adequate specialized resources and services to serve the entire territory, with particular attention given to the specific needs of marginalized people. To be able to respond in a way that respects the reality of each survivor, collaboration such as that between CALACS and the Sexual Violence Helpline is essential. We are all working towards the same goal: ensuring that no victim of sexual violence gets left behind.”

The two groups say that the last few years have demonstrated beyond a doubt that thousands of people across the province still need support services to deal with sexual violence. Many organizations and specialized services are available to help these individuals regain control of their lives.

Finding the resources

They say what is needed now is to promote the Sexual Violence Helpline as the starting point for resources that can help steer victims towards services adapted to their needs. The team, which is specially trained to work with victims of sexual violence, is made up of nearly 20 counsellors who serve the general public and are capable of meeting new challenges.

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the Sexual Violence Helpline is anonymous, confidential, free of charge and bilingual. The line is open to anyone affected by sexual violence, regardless of age or gender, including victims, their loved ones, counsellors, people in doubt, as well as the general public.

The service is managed by the MSAC and is mandated and funded by the Ministère de la Justice du Québec. The Sexual Violence Helpline’s phone number remains unchanged: 1-888-933-9007.