Where Quebec Stands on Sexual Violence Prevention

Is Our Province Doing Enough?

  • Graphic Paulina Dominguez

With the creation and spreading popularity of the #metoo movement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations, people around the globe have come forward after years of silence as survivors of sexual violence on social media.

The conversation surrounding sexual assault has effectively been forced open, and Quebec is no exception. Recently, allegations of sexual misconduct have been made for public figures like TV talk show host Éric Salvail and Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon, among others. They’ve been brought to our attention as a result of this global phenomenon.

In Montreal, 48 hours after the city’s police department, the SPVM, opened a sexual assault hotline on Oct. 19, they had received a total of 174 calls. In addition, they have since opened, and reopened, multiple sexual assault cases due to the calls.

This startling number of calls here in Montreal and the misconduct allegations about prominent Quebecers beg the question: is the province doing enough to deal with sexual assault?

Firstly, The SPVM’s sexual assault hotline was closed on Nov. 6, less than a month after it was started. They said the hotline was set up in the midst of last month’s high-profile allegations towards Hollywood celebrities for anyone who felt compelled to report their own experiences, and calls dropped substantially after their busy first week. In total, they received 463 calls.

There are other sexual assault hotlines, such as one that has been recently set up for Quebec construction workers who have experienced sexual violence.

There are also several facilities available to survivors, such as the Centre pour les victimes d’agression sexuelle de Montréal, Montreal Assault Prevention Centre, Mouvement contre le viol et l’inceste, and Trêve pour elles.

All this, however, does not tackle the underlying problem. People are still being victimized.

According to Quebec’s institute of public health, minors accounted for 53.4 per cent of all survivors of police-recorded sexual offences in 2014. The number of offences was three and a half times higher for girls than for boys in 2013. However, these numbers are far from representative of the reality, as sexual assaults are the offenses least reported to police, according to the minister of public security.

The problem is that not enough resources are being used to educate the public about sexual consent and misconduct. A humanization of the assailants is needed in order to combat sexual violence because the people who are committing these acts are just that—people. Rather than demonizing the assailants, we need to recognize that the assailants are ultimately functioning members of society.

Normally, when sexual assault prevention is taught, tactics are given to potential victims on how to combat an attack. For example, on the SPVM website, although they explicitly denounce victim-blaming for the assault, the prevention tips only highlight safety protocols the vulnerable can follow in order to avoid an attack, and to reduce risk.

Some of their tips include:

  • Choose well-lit roads and parking areas.
  • Avoid alleyways, especially if you are alone.
  • Watch your glass at all times—don’t turn your eyes away from it for even a few moments.
  • Do not accept a drink from a stranger.

Although prevention tips such as these are needed, it is equally important to teach potential assailants and offenders prevention tips, and to raise awareness about what specifically constitutes sexual assault.

In October, Lucie Charlebois, minister responsible for youth protection and public health, and Hélène David, minister responsible for the status of women and higher education, announced the allocation of $1 million to sexual assault centres. And in August, the Quebec government announced that $23 million is to be distributed to post-secondary institutions to counter sexual violence on campuses over the next five years. A bill is also being tabled that will require post-secondary institutions to create sexual violence codes of conduct.

However, when we look at the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that much, said Concordia University President Alan Shepard to The Link.

“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,” he said.

How that money will be spent exactly is not yet known, but some of it should be allocated to the creation and strengthening of sexual assault prevention and consent workshops.

Developing consent education in primary and secondary schools and in post-secondary institutions could reduce the number of future sexual assault assailants, and helps to address the fact that the majority of sexual assault cases that are reported involve a minor.

Consent education should also be offered in workplaces in order to teach adults about the issue, and to start conversations about assault and consent in their social spheres.

The conversation about consent is imperative at every level of education and in every institution in order to reduce the risk of sexual assault. What we need to see from the province right now are more proactive resources and prevention methods that aren’t victim-centred, but focus on the need to educate potential perpetrators.

The Link encourages survivors of sexual violence seeking support to visit the Sexual Assault Resource Centre, located in H-645 at the downtown campus // 514-848-2424 ext. 3461 // sarc@concordia.ca.

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