The Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre (CASASC) is marking 30 years in the community this May, and is also introducing a new service to better meet the needs of those they support.
The CASASC team has been working hard to bring a new texting line and web-chat to the community as a way to reach out to those who may not be in a position to come to the centre or call. The web-chat is available on the CASASC web site, and the text line will be attached to the crisis line at 1-866-956-1099.
Executive Director Patricia Arango said she’s excited to be able to offer this new platform to support the community.
“This has been a dream of mine for awhile,” Arango said.
“Even as part of my first interview here, I said I wanted to use technology more. The reality is that if we don’t move on with technology, we will fall behind. We need to be on top of that. When we go to schools, kids as young as Grade 4s – or younger – have cell phones. They don’t have a calling service, just texting. That tells us that it’s a good way to reach them.”
She said the texting line is a great way to reach out to youth and persons who are unable to make a call from their location. The web-chat is available on the main web site as a tool for the same purposes.
The services can be used for victim support, information, counselling and to book appointments. The official date of the open text line and web-chat is May 26th, but both services will be available to the public as of May 1st.
“This texting line is for victims of sexual assault, friends, family members – anyone who has concerns or questions about sexual assault and sexual violence,” she said.
There is no charge to use the texting line or web-chat and all conversations remain completely anonymous.
May will be a big month for CASASC. In addition to the launch of the text line and web-chat services, it is also a time to mark 30 years in Red Deer. May is also Sexual Assault Prevention month, and marks the one year anniversary of the ‘I respect’ campaign that the centre began last year.
“I feel very lucky to be a part of this 30th anniversary. June will mark my second year here and I feel very lucky to be here. One thing that is clear for me is the need to honour the past and recognize the past foundations of this organization. They built the past, I have the present and I’m calling on everybody in the community to build the future with me,” Arango said.
“Working together will help the prevention and work towards ending this problem that is very difficult to handle.”
She said it’s important to create a dialogue in the community to address sexual assault and to help create safe spaces for victims.
“It’s all about information, educating and creating awareness. The problem with sexual assault is that people don’t want to talk about sex. They don’t want to talk about sexual assault. Everybody avoids the topic – it’s a big taboo, but it’s a reality,” she said.
“I want to invite family members, parents, siblings, teachers – everyone – to be aware of this problem. We have more than 350 new cases a year, and that’s almost one a day. Even one new case is too much.”
CASASC offers a variety of information programs, beginning with their ‘No Secrets’ program for Kindergarten – Grade 4, and then education catered to older grades after that. Arango explained that it’s necessary to speak to young people and let them know about personal boundaries, self-respect and self-esteem. She said this helps to create awareness and prevention of sexual assault incidents.
“We talk to them about their privacy around their bodies, and being able to find a trusted adult to talk to if something happens that makes them uncomfortable. It’s very important for these kids to know because 53 per cent of the cases happen inside of the home – that means we have to teach kids to reach out somewhere safe,” she said.
She said the ‘I respect’ campaign reaches out to the community to share the ideas of self-respect and respect towards other people.
“Everything we are doing right now is about prevention, and looking towards a future without sexual assault.”
Dr. Jamie Prowse Turner works with the Sexual Assault Support Centre as a counsellor and community liaison between Red Deer College and CASASC. She said she’s very pleased to see the texting service come online this month and that it’s a necessity in the community.
“It’s been pretty clear that children and adolescents are texting. That’s what they do, it’s how they communicate with each other and there is a high need to target that age group with awareness, especially in relation to sexual assault,” she said.
“May is our 30th anniversary, we’re rolling out the crisis text line and web chat and the biggest thing for us right now is to create awareness of our centre and our services.”
On May 26th, CASASC will be hosting an official launch of the texting line and web-chat at Red Deer College. Previous board members, executive directors, staff and local dignitaries are invited to attend the event. More details of this event will follow.
Arango added, “The biggest thing that I want people to know is that we need everybody’s help to end sexual assault and to bring the dialogue. I want people to talk about sexual assault. I want parents to talk to their kids, and to get more information. With that text line, people can get all kinds of information.”