Responding to increased demand for support during COVID-19
SACHA launches chat and text support service for survivors of sexualized violence
C/O Gilles Lambert
cw: sexual violence
SACHA, a non-profit community-based sexual assault centre in Hamilton, has launched a chat and text support service for survivors of sexualized violence of all genders and their allies. This new service launched on International Women’s Day as part of their overall commitment of the feminist movement to support survivors.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, SACHA saw a dramatic increase in the number of calls they received on their 24-hour support line.
They recognized the barriers that come from COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures. Survivors who are isolating with others or with their abuser may have a lack of privacy and security, making it difficult to access support over the phone. The chat and text service hopes to bridge this gap and make receiving support more accessible through a quick, discreet platform.
“We're hoping that through this chat and text, more survivors are able to come through or feel comfortable coming through . . . we know that because we're having to isolate and stay home either with our family, our friends or with our roommates, privacy is really hard to have at home,” explained Jessica Bonilla-Damptey, director of SACHA.
The webchat and text support service can be accessed by anyone 16 years or older and of all genders who has experienced sexualized violence at any time in their life, along with people who support survivors of sexual violence, such as friends, family, professionals and other allies. It is free, anonymous and confidential.
Trained volunteers will take a survivor-centered approach to provide support through non-judgemental listening, insight into questions about sexual violence and information potential options and community resources.
“[The service] is there to provide support, through a listening ear from trained volunteers or staff members from SACHA, as well as validation, applause, belief . . . because we know lots of survivors and their experience with disclosing sexual assault . . . Unfortunately [survivors are] not believed, so when you call SACHA, you know that you will be believed 100 per cent for your experience,” said Bonilla-Damptey.
The platform also uses end-to-end encryption so that there will be no record of the conversations. Users of the chat and text service should remember to delete their text messages or erase their laptop history.
Alongside crisis support, SACHA also offers trauma-informed, survivor-centric counselling sessions and public education. Additionally, their diverse communities outreach program offers specific programming for Hamilton’s diverse communities, such as folks who are Black, Indigenous, Queer, Trans or People of Colour.
Bonilla-Damptey also emphasized the importance of McMaster students to know that although SACHA is not officially involved with the campus community as they were before, they are still available for support.
“You're not alone. You don't just have to access services on campus; you're available to come to SACHA as well and we can offer options of other services that you may be able to connect with, so we're here for everybody,” said Bonilla-Damptey.
The webchat and text support service is offered on Mondays and Thursdays from 4 pm-midnight, Friday 8 am-noon and Sunday 4-8 pm Eastern Standard Time. The service can be accessed through the online webchat by clicking the purple chat box on the bottom right hand corner of the page or by texting (289) 207‑7790.