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Safe Space introduces hotline for survivors of sexual assault

March 30, 2018

Safe Space launched a support line for students who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault on Wednesday. Student representatives of Safe Space, previously accessible via their mailboxes, emails or social media, will now be on-call every night of the week, including later hours on weekends, to provide confidential assistance and support. The support line is one of the group’s many efforts to make resources more available to sexual harassment and assault survivors.

Discussion about the support line began this past fall. Safe Space co-leader Shea Necheles ’18 highlighted data from the 2016 Bowdoin Experiences and Attitudes about Relationships and Sex (B.E.A.R.S.) Survey as a catalyst for the creation of the support line. According to the survey, only 16 percent of people who have experienced sexual assault have told a member of Safe Space.

“We recognize there is a huge disconnect between students who have experienced gender violence on campus and students who are receiving support,” said Necheles. She hopes the support line will help to diminish this gap.

Associate Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education Lisa Peterson explained that the support line simplifies the process of contacting Safe Space advocates, who have been specially trained to support and assist survivors of sexual harassment or assault.

“Our hope is that having a central support line will make it that much more accessible to folks—that they know there’s one number they can call, that they’ll be able to connect with an advocate … at any point,” said Peterson.

According to Necheles, “The hope of the support line isn’t to provide all the support you need on one phone call. It is meant to connect people to other services,” such as the Counseling Center, the Health Center or another Safe Space advocate.

“We take a very empowerment-based model to survivors seeking support,” said Peterson. “It’s not up to us to decide what the best way for folks to get that support is, but just to make sure that the avenues to that are really transparent and easy for folks to access.”

Even though the support line may refer callers to other services, Peterson believes that it is crucial that Safe Space advocates are fellow students. According to the B.E.A.R.S. survey data, after being sexually assaulted students are more likely to confide in a friend than an administrator or counselor.

Though the phone calls are confidential, they are not anonymous due to caller identification. “The Safe Space advocate will keep the information confidential, but [the caller’s] identity won’t necessarily be anonymous to whomever is answering the phone,” said Peterson.

However the only instance in which a Safe Space advocate would ever break confidentiality is if they have reason to believe that the caller was at risk to harm themselves or others.

The support line operates Sundays through Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Fridays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Students can also call after hours and leave a message. Call this number to speak to a Safe Space advocate: 207-208-0642.

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