According to the University of Victoria’s Anti-Violence Project, between one in six and one in four women in Canada experience some form of sexual assault during their time at college or university. Clearly, there is an ongoing problem at post-secondary institutions – sexual assault is disturbingly prevalent in society, and colleges and universities are not exempt from this.
However, many post-secondary institutions in Canada are severely under-equipped to address the systemic problem of sexual assault. While it is not our intention to undermine existing services, or “attack” any post-secondary institution for their existing services and policies, the fact is that lack of survivor-specific resources, clear sexual assault policy, and thoughtful awareness initiatives contribute significantly to a college and university culture of silence and alienation among survivors of sexual assault – as well as an environment where predators and potential perpetrators, believing that sexual assault is not taken seriously, are more likely to offend.
Concordia University, like most universities and colleges in Canada and worldwide, currently provides a bare minimum of support services for survivors of sexual assault, and most of these services are provided in accordance with unclear policy, procedures that are inconsistent and sometimes contradictory from department to department, and a framework that seeks to emulate the ways in which the state handles cases of sexual assault – that is to say a framework rooted in unconscious (and conscious) sexism, ciscentricism, heterosexism, racism, and ableism.
We believe that it doesn’t have to be like this.
We believe that the university has the resources and moral obligation to provide the following, in the interests of making the Concordia community a safer place for everyone – and of setting an example for post-secondary institutions all across Canada:
1. Sensitivity training for all service providers and security officers at Concordia University. This includes not only trainings on general sexual assault awareness, but anti-racism and cultural sensitivity trainings, trans 101 trainings, and dis/ability rights trainings.
2. A comprehensive, clear and specific policy on sexual assault. We are not satisfied with policies that only address sexual assault in euphemistic terms, including it implicitly under the umbrellas of “physical assault”, “threatening and illegal behavior”, and “sexual harassment” – these terms serve to obfuscate and confuse, and the lack of a clear and consistent policy plays a huge role in facilitating the current situation.
3. Regular sexual assault awareness and prevention initiatives, including promotion of services for sexual assault survivors on-campus. We refuse to accept that many survivors go without support from the university because the administration is too afraid of controversy to advertise the fact that services do exist. We are offended by “prevention” information that targets women as survivors and potential victims, instead of targeting potential perpetrators and fostering a culture of respect and safety.
4. More comprehensive and accessible services for survivors of sexual assault on campus. In the short term, we would like to develop these services out of the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy – starting with the implementation of a crisis hotline and a resource library in collaboration with the 2110 Centre’s Peer Support and Advocacy program. In the longer term, we would like to see these services expand and develop into a fully funded and autonomous Concordia University Sexual Assault Centre, with a full-time staff, short-term, long-term and group counselling services, and ongoing educational campaigns.
We are positive that all of these goals are not only attainable, but attainable within the next academic year. We are excited to be advocating for these changes, and look forward to working with the university to see them to fruition – again, it is not our intention to attack or undermine existing services, but to present, develop and implement new, dynamic and expanded services, to augment and coordinate among existing services, and ultimately to transform Concordia into school that is safe, accessible, and informed to the benefit of everyone within our diverse and valuable community.