A campaign calling for the creation of a sexual assault crisis centre at Concordia is trying to raise student awareness about sexual violence, something they perceive to be an under-reported and neglected issue at the university.
The initiative stems from the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, but the goal is to get the university to provide both the space and funding for a sexual assault centre on campus. The campaign hopes to see better services, better sensitivity training for service providers and security personnel, and a 24-hour crisis hotline.
Programming and campaigns coordinator Bianca Mugyenyi at the 2110 Centre said the goal is to make the crisis centre an institutionalized part of the university while still promoting student involvement.
“We think it’s within their mandate and responsibility to students to ensure that something as basic as that exists,” said Mugyenyi.
According to an annual report from Concordia’s Office of rights and responsibilities, nine cases of sexual harassment were filed in the 2010-2011 academic year. However, Mugyenyi said that these numbers can be misleading and appear too low given Concordia’s large population. A survey on sexual violence at Canadian universities conducted in March 2011 by the University of Alberta found that sexual assault centres in seven universities across Canada, including McGill, reported seeing between 90 to 300 clients per year.
“It’s under-reported here which means that people aren’t getting the help that they need,” said Mugyenyi.
The campaign also aims to improve Concordia’s existing policies that deal with sexual violence. Currently, sexual assault is addressed in the code of rights and responsibilities under sexual harassment. According to documents compiled by the 2110 Centre Sexual Assault Centre campaign, sexual assault needs to have its own separate policy.
In these documents, the campaign finds fault with the wording of Concordia’s policies, claiming that they “[repeat] victim-blaming rhetoric and [appear] to discourage students from reporting/filing formal complaints.” They also write that the policies are, overall, ambiguous and not easy to find via Concordia’s website.
“Without clear policy, people who are looking for help can’t access it,” said Mugyenyi.
Inconsistent information regarding how to deal with sexual assault on campus can be found on over 15-year-old sheets of paper with emergency contact numbers posted in the women’s washrooms in the Hall building.
One of the emergency numbers is listed as Concordia’s “Sexual Harassment Office,” an office that was discontinued sometime in the mid-1990s and replaced with the Office of rights and responsibilities. When called, the number, as well as every other number on the list, is out of service.
When asked about the posters in the women’s washrooms, Concordia’s advisor on rights and responsibilities, Louise Shiller, said she was not aware they existed and plans to have the information updated immediately.
The sexual assault centre campaign brought their demands to the Concordia Student Union council in October, where council passed a motion granting the campaign their endorsement.
CSU councillor Irmak Bahar supports the campaign and explained in an interview that a sexual assault centre would make it easier for students to get help.
“It’s important when it comes to sexual assault that we have something more accessible,” said Bahar. She acknowledged that Concordia’s health services provide emergency contraceptives and STI testing, as well as counselling and support for victims of sexual violence, but noted that their office hours are limited from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.
“Health services do what they can,” said Bahar, “but sexual assault doesn’t have a schedule.”
Open meetings are held three times a month by campaign organizers to discuss the centre and find support. An online petition calling for support is also available and as of Monday, had just over 200 signatures.
“It’s shameful that Concordia hasn’t taken this initiative yet, and I’d like to see that change,” said Anna Frey, a first-year studying communications and sexual studies, who signed the petition.
Those lobbying for a sexual assault centre are also trying to raise awareness by organizing educational workshops on sexual violence, distributing flyers around the school about consent and putting together a zine aimed toward survivors of sexual assault.
Mugyenyi said the campaign has applied for funding from Concordia’s sustainable action fund and should know within the coming weeks whether their request has been accepted.