Toronto sexual assault, harassment services flooded by calls triggered by #MeToo movement

Toronto Rape Crisis Centre has been flooded by calls from sexual assault and harassment survivors seeking support following the #MeToo movement triggered by mounting accusations against disgraced Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

More survivors seeking support from 24-hour crisis lines and counselling in recent weeks

Toronto sexual assault and harassment services have received an increase in calls and counselling requests inspired by the #MeToo campaign. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

Two simple words aren't always easy to say out loud or write down.  

For some survivors of sexual assault and harassment, the two-word message #MeToo exploding on social media has either been overwhelming and triggering or inspired them to seek help, a Toronto counsellor says. 

Toronto Rape Crisis Centre — Multicultural Women Against Rape has been flooded by calls from survivors seeking support following the #MeToo movement, which was triggered by mounting accusations against disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.  

While Deb Singh, a counsellor and activist at the downtown centre, doesn't have concrete numbers on the amount of calls, she has seen an definite increase in people using the 24-hour crisis line and coming in for counselling over the past few weeks. 

"I've had many survivors tell me directly that the campaign #MeToo and social media presence on their newsfeed has been pretty overwhelming and triggering, and lots of people have reached out more for support," she told CBC Radio's Here and Now on Friday afternoon.  

'You're not alone'

The avalanche of complaints has inspired other survivors to speak out about being sexually abused and harassed. 

Callers, many of whom are sharing their stories with someone for the first time, are prompted by the critical mass of others with similar experiences and feel safer reaching out, according to Singh, who is a survivor herself. 

"I know that for me, it just reminded me that there's so many more survivors out there that you're not alone," she said. 

Farrah Khan, sexual violence support and education co-ordinator at Ryerson University, says her office has received double the amount of calls for support and service requests during this time. 

"With these increased conversations comes increased request for service," she said, adding there needs to be more resources for people to rely on.

"We want to make sure when we have these conversations, how do we support people who may be recognizing this for the first time?"

But there isn't one answer, she explained, because almost every survivor is at a different place in dealing with the trauma.  

"There's historical sexual violence, something that happens in the past; there's recent, something that happened in the last few months; and there's present, like it's still happening," said Khan.

"That's the challenge with doing the work."

'So many people who need help'

The #MeToo discussion is all-too familiar for many survivors who have joined forces against sexual assault and harassment before.

Since 2014, other grassroots hashtag campaigns like #YesAllWomen and #BeenRapedNeverReported, empowered survivors to speak up. 

"There's so many people who need help that it's like triaging for that support," said Khan. 

Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said the service has no plans to establish a special hotline for sex-assault complaints. He added that there hasn't been an increase in reporting since the Weinstein allegations surfaced.

For both Khan and Singh, a special police hotline would only go so far, as many survivors don't want to press charges given how tough it can be to tell their story in a courtroom.

"Survivors aren't going to the police, so putting resources into creating that hotline would be a waste of time," said Singh. 

Instead, the two activists are calling for increased funding from all levels of government to help providers offer more sexual violence services. 

About the Author

Amara McLaughlin

Online reporter, CBC Toronto

Amara McLaughlin is a digital journalist at CBC Toronto. Originally from Alberta, she began her journalism career in Calgary but now calls Toronto home. She has also worked in Jerusalem, Washington, D.C. and Hamilton, Ont. amara.mclaughlin@cbc.ca

With files from CBC Radio's Here and Now