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Campus group advocates for on-campus sexual assault centre

Students call for a centre dedicated to support and prevention

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Studies show that one in five women will be sexually assaulted on a university campus as students. These incidents are an unfortunate reality on post-secondary campuses — and SFU is no exception.

Student groups at SFU have been campaigning to open a centre for sexual assault prevention and support on campus to raise awareness and to offer resources to survivors of sexual violence. SFU is one of the few Canadian universities not to have already established one.

An independent, student-run working group was formed in August, 2015 to develop a proposal for a Sexual Assault Prevention & Support Centre at SFU (SAPSC), that would ne inclusive to all genders, not just women.

“Anything less than a centre would be inadequate on campus,” stated Kaayla Ashlie, a fifth-year gender studies student who sits on the committee for the SAPSC.

Although there are services in place on campus, Ashlie believes that it is not clear enough where victims should seek help — and that one localized and dedicated centre would make help more accessible for those in crisis.

Current resources at the university include Campus Security, SFU Health and Counselling, Out on Campus, and the SFU Women’s Centre, which offers a 24-hour safe space for women, to name a few.

The idea behind the creation of the SAPSC would not be to develop new resources from the ground up, but to create a hub that can connect people to the services already in existence, thereby relieving the burden on groups that are going beyond their mandate to support victims of sexual assault.

Ashlie expressed a need for “ongoing educational campaigns to really shape the culture of SFU, and what is acceptable and not acceptable on this campus.”

Laura Scheck, who also sits on the committee, commented that it can take people a long time to come to terms with something that has happened to them — and it’s not always black and white. “Unless you believe that a blatant crime was committed against you, you’re not going to go to security,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t identify as being in crisis when they’ve experienced sexual violence. And this has to do with those weird grey areas, where you’re not sure what happened to you and you’re not comfortable with it.”

She explained that it would be a starting point for seeking help, and provide support if people wanted to go to counselling, have a rape kit test done, or take legal action.

Administration has stated that SFU takes the issue of sexual assault very seriously. Associate Vice-President, Students Tim Rahilly told Burnaby Now, “This is very serious business and has a huge impact on the lives of people when this happens, so we take it very seriously.”

The Consent Matters campaign was launched earlier this semester to open up a dialogue around consent and to educate the SFU community about how to prevent sexual violence.

There were three reported assaults across SFU’s three campuses in 2015, and five total in 2014. While these numbers may seem comparatively low to other institutions, research shows that these statistics across Canadian universities are not an accurate representation of sexual violence on campuses, which is believed to be largely due to underreporting of sexual assault occurrences.

For the working group, the centre cannot be established soon enough. The student-led committee plans to ask for support from the student body by referendum in Fall 2016. Their final proposal will be based on consultations with various SFU offices, faculty, administrators, and student groups, as well as research on similar centres running at other Canadian universities.

The group’s original aim was to put the question to Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) members in the upcoming general election, but the referendum has been delayed while their legal status as a non-profit society under the BC Society Act is pending. The group will continue consultations with the SFU community as they work on the proposal.

The current cost the group has calculated puts the proposed student levy at $2 a semester, but that figure is subject to change as more research is done and efforts have been made to involve other groups on campus that could potentially pay into the centre as well.

The SFSS board of directors passed a motion to look into what sort of services could be offered through the SFSS to aid in prevention of sexual assault and to provide support to those who have been assaulted.

The centre would be run autonomously from the university. SFSS VP External Relations Kathleen Yang said, “I think independence with these types of organizations is absolutely critical.”