Sexual Assault Centre Officially Opens at Concordia
Two-Year-Long Campaign Finally Bears Fruit
After two years and a thousand-strong petition, Concordia’s highly anticipated Sexual Assault Resource Centre is finally open.
Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy, which promotes gender equality and empowerment among marginalized groups, had been advocating for a sexual assault centre on campus since the spring of 2011 due to the high rate of sexual assault—which includes any unwanted act of sexual nature—on university campuses.
“Around one in four students experiences some kind of sexual assault during their post-secondary career,” the Centre’s administrative coordinator Julie Michaud told The Link.
“[The Centre] thought that was completely unacceptable and that it just didn’t make any sense that there was no dedicated service to meet the needs of the survivors at Concordia given that statistic.”
The outline that the Concordia administration proposed after announcing its plans in April to open the new SARC by this fall included many of the Centre’s original goals, such as the inclusion of all genders and the hiring of a social worker to handle counselling and academic accommodation, to name a few.
The university has committed only one year to the project, but Michaud says she doesn’t think it’ll be dismantled anytime soon.
“Just the fact of creating a sexual assault centre sends a strong message to the Concordia community,” she said.
“It says, ‘This is an issue at our university. We recognize that, we’re taking it seriously, and we want you to know that we want to support you and help you get through this experience,’” she continued.
“Its very existence, that there’s a place called the Sexual Assault Resource Centre, is really important.”
Teaching ‘Don’t Rape’
Much of the new centre’s focus will be on assault prevention.
“For too long the sexual assault prevention advice that has been given out has been, ‘Don’t walk alone at night, don’t dress like a slut, don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t flirt with someone you don’t know,’” said Michaud.
“But it’s not up to the potential victim of sexual assault to prevent themselves from being victimized, it’s up to the person who wants to have sex with someone to check in and find out if the other person is actually consenting, and that’s a skill that can be learned.”
Montreal has various resources and services for sexual assault, but Michaud says there are many advantages to a Concordia-based centre.
“One of the many things survivors might need is academic accommodation,” Michaud explained.
“It’s nice to have a person on site in an official Concordia office be able to, if necessary, call a […] professor who a survivor might not feel comfortable asking for accommodation and say, ‘I’m wondering if we might be able to make arrangements to accommodate this person who is going through a rough time,’ or helping somebody get to and from classes if the perpetrator is a fellow student, for example.”
Social worker Jennifer Drummond, the SARC’s recently hired coordinator and the one full-time position at the centre, echoed the sentiment.
“The good thing about having something on campus is that it offers immediate support, immediate crisis intervention and immediate information,” she said.
“When someone comes and meets with me […] they can expect someone who’s non-judgmental, they can expect what we discuss to be confidential, they can expect to be treated with respect and to be believed and someone who will go over their options with them and provide them with support.”
—Jennifer Drummond, SARC coordinator
“I think it’s a good thing to have something that’s specific to the campus environment and also a centre that can engage in education and awareness-raising activities.”
An official advisory committee for the SARC will eventually be implemented, but for now, Drummond says she’ll be working closely with the CGA.
“There is a little bit of overlap because we all care about student well-being, safety and health, so there will definitely be collaboration [with the CGA] as well as collaboration with [the university’s] health services and counselling and development,” she said.
Drummond added that she’s now in the process of putting together a wide range of resources to be available to the Concordia community, including crisis intervention, referrals and volunteer opportunities.
Educating and raising awareness about sexual assault prevention will also be one of the resource centre’s main goals, according to Michaud.
“The best way to talk about what consent is and how to make sure you’ve got it is to actually have a conversation with people, because then that gives you time to pull out all of the cultural baggage and ideas about sex,” she said.
Volunteers at the SARC will be holding workshops to start the conversation with the community.
“A good thing about workshops is that you can access a group of people at the same time,” said Drummond. “There’s opportunities for different kinds of learning, whether that’s through activities or video clips; it offers different ways for students […] to engage with the material.”
Despite the focus on prevention, Drummond says the SARC will primarily be a safe space for sexual assault survivors wherein they can get the help needed to move forward.
“When someone comes and meets with me […] they can expect someone who’s non-judgmental, they can expect what we discuss to be confidential, they can expect to be treated with respect and to be believed and someone who will go over their options with them and provide them with support,” said Drummond.
Support Through Community
The SARC is currently looking to fill a roster of volunteers to staff the centre. Responsibilities include running the resource room and keeping it up-to-date and accessible to anyone seeking information, Drummond told The Link.
Volunteers will also be involved in education and awareness raising, as well as responsible for presentations and workshops, she added.
Volunteer opportunities are available to anyone interested, but Drummond says she hopes to bring survivors of sexual assault together for support.
“I think there’s something really powerful in survivors working with other survivors,” she said.
“I think that the expertise and knowledge that people have from their own experiences is huge and that’s something that you don’t learn at school.”
Ultimately, Michaud says the opening of the SARC marks a step in the right direction for the university.
“I think there might be a bit of a fear that if we talk about sexual assault as something that happens […] people will think that it’s a problem at our university,” she said. “But the reality is that it’s a problem at every university; talking about it doesn’t indicate that it’s a particular problem [at Concordia], it just indicates that you’re actually dealing with it, which is a really positive thing.”