Concordia still asking for sexual assault support centre

While Carleton University recently announced their intention to open of an on-campus sexual assault support centre, students at Concordia University are still asking for one.

Julie Michaud, a member of Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA), is part of a group of students trying to drum up support for a sexual assault support centre.

The CGA started as a women’s centre, and has since branched out into different social issues. While the group has students trained in active listening, Michaud said there’s no one trained to deal specifically with sexual assault.

“Currently, if somebody were to come to us we would be inclined to direct them to another service in the city, and that’s why we really want to prioritize having that service at Concordia,” Michaud said.

They opened talks with the university about getting space, and sustainable funding, but the university initially turned them down, according to Michaud.

Cléa Desjardins, senior advisor for external communications at Concordia, said the university believes it provides adequate support for victims of sexual assaults.

“We’ve got health services and security,” she said. “Those two groups are on campus, and are ready to respond to any request or issues regarding sexual [assault] support.”

But if students need serious medical attention, or forensic help, they are taken to the Montreal General Hospital, according to Desjardins.

As for emotional support, Desjardins said the university does have councillors on site who will follow up with students to make sure they’re doing well in classes, but any further psychiatric counselling is outsourced from the school.

This raises concerns for Michaud, who believes the experience of sexual assault is enough, and all efforts should be made to make the healing process as comfortable as possible.

Michaud has also taken issue with the wording on Concordia’s website for the Office of Rights and Responsibilities.

“It is important to understand that once you choose this route, you have entered into an adversarial process where others decide the outcome. This is very different from a situation where you deal with the problem yourself, or negotiate a solution with the other party,” the website reads.

“It kind of warns anybody who’s bringing the complaint forward that if any sort of formal procedure is undertaken that it is irreversible,” Michaud said. “So the burden of proof is placed on the person who is reporting, and as we know that’s a major deterrent.”

Directly below the statement, it does let students know that, whatever their choice, they don’t have to do it alone.

Regardless, Michaud said she believes this type of approach to sexual assault leads to the under-reporting of incidents.

At Concordia, 12 sexual assaults were reported during the 2009-2010 school year, the most recent year data is available for, according to Michaud.

“We know that [based on the statistics of one in four], this doesn’t add up,” Michaud said.

While she said she would love to believe Concordia has an abnormally low rate of sexual assault incidents, she said she thinks it’s more likely the lack of support and wording on the website are acting as barriers to students who have been assaulted.

While the 2110 group remains flexible on the specifics of the support centre, Michaud said she wants to see a centre that has a great deal of student involvement.

She also hopes there will be an office that bears the final responsibility for ensuring there are resources available for survivors of sexual assault.

Michaud and the other members of the 2110 group will be petitioning and holding demonstrations until more dialogue with the university takes place.

“Having a sexual assault centre and also having a useful and clear policy should be a key priority,” she said. “People really can’t make the most of their education if their safety, security, and physical well-being are at risk.”