Editorial: Despite Funding, Quebec Isn’t Doing Enough to Combat Sexual Violence On Campus

Graphic Gabor Bata

The provincial government has announced plans to dedicate $23 million over five years to programs and services for the prevention of sexual violence on campuses in CEGEPs and universities across Quebec. The money would also offer resources and counseling to survivors.

After the announcement, Concordia president Alan Shepard praised the initiative but raised some questions.

“There will be some money coming to Concordia, I’m not going to complain about the money. But just to say, $23 million sounds like a lot, and when you divide it by 60, 70 institutions and divide it by [five] years, it’s not a gigantic sum,” Shepard said in a recent interview with The Link.

$23 million isn’t enough to tackle sexual violence on all post-secondary campuses in this province. Not even close.

Schools wouldn’t be getting a whole lot of money. Services like the Sexual Assault Resource Centre, located in room H-645 of the Hall Building at Concordia, need large staff to be able to handle every case that comes through their doors.

The SARC currently employs two people, coordinator Jennifer Drummond and service assistant Ashley Allen. Two people. That’s it.

Even with their team of dedicated volunteers, two paid employees isn’t enough to completely tackle sexual assault on campus—which involves but isn’t limited to implementing preventative measures and accommodating survivors.

The SARC also holds consent workshops for students under the Arts and Science Federation of Associations and the Commerce and Administration Students’ Association attending frosh events, and for Concordia’s sports teams.

If schools are to have a “one-stop shop” for handling the issue of sexual assault on campus, a lot more funding is required. Having a team of dedicated volunteers is wonderful, but their valuable work should not be on a volunteer basis. Those people should be fully compensated employees.

While President Shepard is right in criticizing the small allotment of money going towards the problem of sexual assault on school campuses, it is important that he prioritizes a way to further fund the SARC within the restraints of the current budget.

Along with giving post-secondary institutions more dollars, the Quebec government should also look into giving a reasonable investment for similar services in elementary schools and high schools. Especially when considering that many people start having sex well before starting CEGEP.

Often, students arrive in CEGEPs and universities without knowing the real meaning of consent. That isn’t something that should be learned later on in one’s academic career. All people should know, from a young age, what consent means and what constitutes a consensual sexual encounter.

They should also learn that not all sexual violence is physical, but that things like catcalling are also forms of sexual violence.

Not only would this help make people more aware of sexual assault at an earlier age, it could make for a safer environment both on campuses and everywhere else. Not every student chooses or has the chance to make it to post-secondary education, and those people should not be excluded from being educated on consent.

“We must not forget that the culture which feeds sexual violence is not born on campuses: prevention of this violence must also take place before postsecondary education, and as soon as possible,” said Häxan Bondu, socio-political affairs coordinator for l’Association pour la voix étudiante au Québec, in a statement.

We do acknowledge that an investment into this issue is definitely a good start. With the additional funding, more student associations could receive consent workshops before frosh events, for example.

However, the amount of money being given can’t possibly be perceived by anyone as being sufficient. $23 million distributed across all post-secondary institutions in this province over a five-year period is not even close.

Having a “one-stop shop” within those schools is not a bad idea—it ensures that all decisions and initiatives are done unilaterally. Still, schools are big. In the example of Concordia, shouldn’t there also be an office at the Loyola campus? Sexual violence can happen anywhere at any time, this investment wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs of opening a new office and hiring staff to run it.

We would like to see the government significantly increase its funding to sexual assault prevention and accommodation of survivors in post-secondary schools. We would also like to see them start an initiative to add consent education to high school and elementary school curriculums.

If “zero tolerance” for sexual assaults on school campuses is the standard, as Quebec minister of higher education Helene David said at the announcement, $23 million simply isn’t the answer.