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The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line & Leadership (SASSL), a student-run organization at York University, gets about 60 calls a week addressing sexual assault. They provide information, referrals and a listening ear to survivors of sexual assaults (as well as their family and friends). Here, SASSL’s external outreach coordinator, Aaliya Khan, discusses the history and future plans of SASSL with Urban Times.

Urban Times: How did this initiative start?

Aaliya Khan: In 1995, the admins of our school (York University) noticed the need to serve assault survivors. They started the organization, and we have evolved in a lot of aspects such as structuring. We are now an organization with many allies, especially with groups that cater to the needs of women and the TBLGAY (Trans, Bi, Lesbian and Gay Allies at York) community. SASSL is funded by the Campus Safety for Women Grant, the Work Study Program and the Graduate Assistant Program.


UT: How has SASSL grown from its beginning?

AK: Our amount of volunteer support has almost doubled in size this year compared to last year. I think much of this is a result of having on-campus allies and outside resources. Our services have also diversified; we get a lot of referrals from organizations such as the Centre for Women and Trans People, Rape Crisis Centre and Women College Hospital sexual assault unit. So we have grown to have a greater number of outreach. This helps our goal to minimize the effects of sexual assaults on people and educate as many people as we can.

UT: In your personal opinion, why do you think SASSL is important?

AK: I personally think SASSL is important because students need to have resources in the campus environment. We are pro-survivor, pro-diversity and pro-feminist, meaning that we do not discriminate and we recognize some of the culture barriers that exist. So I think that it is important to have an organization like us to serve as an outlet for those who have been assaulted and are often faced with stigma in their own communities.


UT: Can you elaborate on the pro-survivor, pro-diversity and pro-feminist nature of SASSL?

AK: We use the term “survivor” and not “victim” because it is an empowering term, so we would like people to know that we have confidence in their ability to remobilize and we try to give them as much support as possible. We are pro-feminist because we recognize that sexual assault perpetrators are often male, but we do not discriminate with regards to gender and we never question the legitimacy of the calls. Pro-diversity means that we do not discriminate regardless of race, religion, political view, etc.

UT: How many calls do you normally get on a weekly basis? What is the main issue/concern addressed in these calls?

AK: During the fall and winter semesters, we get approximately 60 calls a week. Each call is different, but one of the main issues is sexual assaults perpetrated by someone you know, for example, family member, close friends, common law partner, etc. But we do receive a variety of calls, and this is just a generalization.


UT: What events does SASSL have planned for the future?

AK: This year, we want to reach out to as many secondary schools as we can. We want to hold more workshops so young people understand their options if they have been assaulted. We are aiming to reach as many people as we can. We really would like the community to know that we are a definite member and we are there for them.