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Toronto rape crisis centre sees uptick in people looking for support after #MeToo, Weinstein reporting

Montreal police have set up a special sexual assault hotline in response, but Toronto police don't have any similar plans.

The New York Times' reporting on the multiple sexual assault and harassment allegations against Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein has sparked an avalanche of reporting on sexual violence and an outpouring of women sharing their own stories on social media with #MeToo.

Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP

The New York Times' reporting on the multiple sexual assault and harassment allegations against Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein has sparked an avalanche of reporting on sexual violence and an outpouring of women sharing their own stories on social media with #MeToo.

As #MeToo floods social media with stories of sexual assault and harassment, more people are seeking support from a local crisis centre.

Deb Singh, a counsellor and activist at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre – Multicultural Women Against Rape, has seen more people using the 24-hour crisis line and coming in for counselling over the past few weeks.

People have mentioned that the #MeToo campaign and all of the sexual-violence reporting following the New York Times' investigation on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have been "hard."

"There's just so many ways in which we're bringing the conversation to individual people, but then they're having to take care of themselves on their own,” she said.

While the reporting is important, she said some of the reactions, like questioning why some women waited so long to come forward, invalidates survivors.

Ally Crockford, a public educator with the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, didn't have firm numbers on hand for the last few weeks but said the organization did see an increase in calls between last October and January when the Access Hollywood Tape broke, featuring Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.

"When there's a spike in national and international conversations, we see a similar increase in people reaching out," she said.

Crockford gets asked a lot if there's a "crisis" of sexual violence right now.

"My response is that there's not really been a change in the acts but there's a change in the conversation," she said. "And what we haven't yet seen and yet we hope we'll see as a result of this conversation, is an increase in funding to provide support."

The "MeToo" hashtag is actually over a decade old, started by activist Tarana Burke. It was revived after the Times' recent stories on Weinstein sparked wider reporting on powerful men across various industries.

In Montreal, where Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women, police have set up a special hotline for sex-assault complaints.

Spokesperson Sandrine Lapointe told Metro in an email that the temporary hotline was set up on Thursday given the breadth of the problem. They received 253 calls as of Monday.

Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash said they have no plan to do something similar and have not noticed any increase in reporting since the Weinstein allegations surfaced.

For 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.

While more resources for organizations that support survivors would help, she’d like to see #MeToo move from people who’ve experienced sexual harassment and assault to those that have done it, or seen it and done nothing.

"Where are the dudes who are doing this, who are not talking about consent in their communities, in their families, in their homes with their boys?" she asks.

"It would be a hot mess at first, but at least it would be a start."

By the numbers:

According to Canadian census numbers that came out in early October:

• 117,238 sexual assaults were reported to police in Canada between 2009 and 2014

• 98 per cent of those assaults were classified as "level 1" — without a weapon or evidence of bodily harm

• When charges were laid, 87 per cent of people assaulted knew the person who did it

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