This week, Office of the Dean of Student Life and the Counseling Center introduced a new SafeLine program on campus to assist students affected by sexual assault or unsafe relationships. The SafeLine went live on Tuesday and is staffed by professionals in the Counseling Center.
“We felt strongly that there needed to be a 24/7 response line available for incidents of sexual violence to provide confidential assistance to students,” Susan Boswell, Dean of Student Life, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The SafeLine gives students the opportunity to call anonymously and speak directly with a trained counselor, such as a psychologist or predoctoral intern from the Counseling Center. These on-call counselors will discuss the available options for the student, giving them the chance to ask questions and discuss different prospects before choosing how to proceed with their case.
“It is our hope that this resource will provide timely, confidential support, which is essential in these situations,” Boswell said.
Through the SafeLine, students affected by sexual assault can also be connected to Mercy Medical Center of Union Memorial Hospital, where they can learn about the SAFE Nursing Program and have a free examination. The Counseling Center has arranged a transportation service with Hopkins Security that will provide students with a SafeRide to Mercy Medical Center. They will have the option of being accompanied by a peer advocate or a trained professional.
“Students can request a SafeRide by calling SafeLine, no questions asked, no investigation filed,” Aishwarya Rajagopalan, a member of Preventative Education and Empowerment for Peers (PEEPs), wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “This is to protect the privacy of students who have undergone trauma such as sexual assault, and to encourage them to feel comfortable seeking assistance.”
The Hopkins Sexual Assault Response Unit (SARU) also emphasized the confidentiality and ease of these new resources.
“As a student, you do not need to give your name to receive these services,” senior Nassira Bougrab, co-director of SARU, wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “There will be no pressure to report an assault; you have the option of remaining completely anonymous.”
Hopkins implemented SafeLine and SafeRide out of a growing need for the University to mobilize professional staff both to ascertain quantitative data on the status of sexual violence on campus as well as to provide follow-up services in a capacity that some of the student groups on campus may not be equipped to do.
“We have SARU, which is a great group of students trained in crisis response and referral services; however, the SafeLine is intended to funnel students who have been in touch with SARU for continued assistance, or to assist students who may not feel comfortable approaching a peer as of yet,” Rajagopalan said.
While student advocacy groups such as SARU and PEEPs are excellent at responding to crisis situations and peer health concerns, these groups require additional support from the University administration in order to truly improve the quality of student life at Hopkins.
“Sexual assault is a problem that every college campus faces,” Bougrab said. “Through the SafeLine, our school’s professional counselors can now become visible advocates for survivors. We believe that the promotion of the SafeLine will raise awareness of sexual violence on campus and allow students to see that Hopkins is taking steps to support survivors.”
At present, one of the most common issues institutions encounter when it comes to dealing with cases of sexual assault is that survivors do not come forward.
“Our on-campus student advocacy groups, including SARU, A Place To Talk (APTT) and PEEPs, are all integral to disintegrating the “culture of silence” towards sexual assault by offering peer-to-peer education, empowerment and referral services,” Rajagopalan said. “I hope that now the SafeLine will also begin to combat that culture. While sexual assault inherently is a very personal issue, it is something that people should not have to deal with alone, or in silence.”
While the SafeLine can neither eliminate sexual assault altogether nor eliminate the barriers associated with reporting cases, Rajagopalan sees it as a critical step for the University.
“At the very least, I believe the SafeLine will help to continue the conversation about sexual assault and relationship violence on campus,” Rajagopalan said. “My ultimate hope for the SafeLine is that it will invite people to feel more comfortable seeking professional help, or even just taking advantage of campus resources to unload some of the stress that can be caused by sexual assault. Once we are comfortable having this conversation at a university-wide level, I think that we can really see change mobilizing in this regard.”