What started out with a mere $40 donation and single phone line has now grown into a full-fledged organization with real impact in the community.
For the past 30 years, the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa (SASC) has been providing survivors with resources, materials, counselling, and assistance as they navigate through the aftermath of sexual assault.
To commemorate three decades in the community, a reception and screening of a documentary film on SASC’s history was held at Cube Gallery on Sept. 19. On the same day, SASC held their annual general meeting (AGM) and informed attendants of official statistics and figures accumulated over 2013.
This past year, SASC received 45,000 crisis support calls and held 7,000 individual counselling sessions, according to the figures released during SASC’s AGM.
Sexual assault cases in Ottawa have consistently been on the rise, according to official police reports.
In 2012, there were 366 sexual assault reported to the police – a significant increase since 2008, when there were 299 reports.
Moreover, 78 per cent of all sexual assault crimes are not reported to the police, according to SASC.
Still, SASC is continuously growing year after year thanks in part to new volunteers and supporters. Close to 150 people attended the centre’s anniversary reception, official organizers said.
According to SASC volunteer Amanda, who preferred not to divulge her last name, the large crowd is a testament to how much SASC has changed since 1983.
“It has expanded. More people know about it. It has more funding through donations.”
The philosophy of SASC, as published on its website, states that “sexual violence…is about power and control.” Survivors who consult SASC’s services are not pressured by volunteers or staff to go to the police to report the incident.
This is done to ensure a higher sense of empowerment and agency, Amanda said.
“I feel like survivors have to do certain things and at SASC, we support people’s choices to do what’s right for them,” Amanda said.
Eight women started the SASC collective out of each other’s basements in 1983.
Instead of relying mostly on professional help, SASC uses a peer-support model for survivors to provide the services women need during times of crisis.
As the name suggests, support is a key element of SASC. Volunteers and staff members provide a 24-hour crisis line, support groups, advocacy programs, and counselling services to anyone requiring assistance after a sexual assault.
In addition, there are special groups and initiatives that seek to address particular issues cross-cutting gender-based violence, such as the Young Women at Risk and Women and War programs.
Still, public relations coordinator Concillia Muonde believes that despite changing attitudes and progress, the issues SASC faced 30 years ago remain alive.
“We still struggle to meet the demands of the services we provide,” she said.
Muonde said that SASC has faced additional odds because of funding cuts. “Sexual assault is not going down, the law is not on our side.”
It is only appropriate that a documentary film about SASC be titled Against All Odds, Muonde said.
The film traces the three decades in SASC’s history as told by founding members, donors, volunteers, and survivors.
Scattered throughout the film are dramatic representations of survivors as they recount their stories of incest, ritualized abuse, continuous sexual assault, and living through genocide.
Olympic athlete and Ottawa resident Elizabeth Manley spoke before the film screening and talked about her own connection with SASC.
“SASC inspired me to look at my own life and women need to be able to reach out and ask for help,” Manley said.
‘The women we support are survivors. It’s symbolic of our centre,” Muonde said. “It’s symbolic of the many years we’ve survived.”
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2013).