Quebec to spend $54 million to end sexual violence in higher education
In 2013, Jennifer Drummond opened the Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) in Concordia, the University of Montreal’s one-stop resource for victims of sexual assault.
She says she had to rely on a very small team of just five staff and volunteers to get her work done.
Now that Quebec plans to spend $54 million over five years to prevent and combat sexual violence in higher education institutions, she hopes the center can help more people.
“Any kind of additional funding in this area is badly needed,” she said. “I could see how helpful it is for survivors to have that one dedicated resource to support them.”
The SARC offers advice, teaches safety measures, organizes academic accommodation and provides accompaniment to internal and external resources. This includes taking survivors to the hospital or police station and helping them navigate court.
“It’s really important to put something like this in place, and I’m happy to hear that there’s this funding that will make it possible to do that in other places,” Drummond said.
At a news conference on Monday, Quebec Minister of Higher Education Pascale Déry said two separate studies show that more than a third of college and university students have experienced at least one form of sexual violence since arriving at their institution.
The $54 million over five years represents an increase of $25 million over the previous budget.
The lion’s share, $37.5 million, will go directly to agencies, specifically for establishing one-stop shops to treat cases of sexual violence and hiring specialized resources to accompany victims.
The remainder of the funding goes to partners who offer their expertise in this field to the service of institutions and for research into the phenomenon of sexual violence in post-secondary institutions.
Finally, $4 million will be used to improve security in certain areas that some facilities have designated as high-risk zones.
Déry said she hopes these new measures will improve the situation at Quebec’s higher education institutions and make their environment safer for everyone.
The students remain skeptical
Students who have campaigned for better policies against sexual violence on campus remain unfazed by the government’s efforts and funding.
But Mya Walmsley, chief negotiator for the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union, which uses gender-neutral pronouns, says the money isn’t getting to the root of the problem.
“I think the reality is that we can’t just keep pumping money into consultancies and external bodies. The obvious solution is to put the power in the hands of the students,” Walmsley said.
And once the money is split among all CEGEPs, colleges and universities across the province, $25 million doesn’t seem impressive, they said.
Margot Berner, a member of the Interorganizational Table on Feminist Affairs, who also uses gender-neutral pronouns, says the money doesn’t address student demands.
The support for survivors is great, but “we need people who have committed sexual violence to be held accountable for their actions,” they said.
Berner says the money should go to grassroots organizations, “the people who work to combat sexual violence on campus.” They say organizations funded by the university cannot provide that accountability, and the university itself “is more concerned with protecting its reputation.”
“It has always been the students who know how to effectively support survivors,” said Berner.
Drummond says there are many ways students can get involved — like volunteering at the resource center.
“Students play a huge role in creating the kind of culture that we have here, and step in when they see or hear something that contributes to the culture that we don’t want,” she said.
“I think it’s a multi-pronged approach and increased funding will help us do more of what we’re already doing.”