Impending program changes to sexual assault support at UNB has some worried that assault specific counselling services will be the victim of funding cuts.
“After falling into a dark place, having a sexual assault counselor readily available on campus was one of the main reasons I was able to stay and continue my studies,” explained Hannah*, a UNB student that has used the sexual violence services on campus.
UNB began working with Sexual Violence New Brunswick, formally known as the Fredericton Sexual Assault Center in 2016, a partnership that was then expanded to include St. Thomas University and New Brunswick Community College.
Through this partnership, the university developed the Campus Sexual Assault Support Advocate (CSASA) to offer assault specific counselling services. Hilary Swan and Maggie Forsythe act as CSASAs in Fredericton and operate on a tri-campus basis, supporting students at UNB, STU and NBCC. Trish Pendleton holds this position at the Saint John campus.
This 3-year plan was among the first of its kind in Canada, and used set funds to act on several strategy pillars including intervention, advocacy, policy development and research, and prevention and education.
The 2019/2020 school year is the last in the current strategy, and the involved parties (UNB, STU, NBCC, SVNB) are currently in negotiations to plan the next approach, aiming for a 5-year strategy.
Many students currently using CSASA counselling are concerned about potential funding cuts that may diminish the overextended services provided by the CSASA.
Under the current plan, the funding only allows for the CSASA to see students that have experienced an instance of sexual violence while enrolled. If funding decreases, their reach would be limited further and reduce the resources available to students.
“Recovering from sexual assault is an individual process without a prescribed time frame of recovery and everyone, regardless of when it occurred, deserves access to support,” said Jessica*, a student who experienced an assault prior to attending UNB.
She described being unable to recognize her experience as an assault, as it did not fit “the typical rape story.” At the time, they were able to access the CSASA but, now, they would be turned away.
“[The] CSASA does an incredible job of offering this support,” she said.
Based on her personal experience, Jessica feels that the potential impact of lowered funding in the new strategy is “beyond heartbreaking.”
Hannah feels “very much like the university is trying to pretend that sexual assault does not happen on campus.”
“The university does not take sexual assault seriously enough,” she said. “So many students, including myself, rely on CSASA as a safe space, and for that to be taken away over budget cuts, is just another example of this institution valuing sports and clubs over student safety.”
Jessica, too, says that there are many issues that the university has been overlooking that contribute to the feelings of fear regarding sexual violence, citing residence bathrooms as an example.
“UNB is lacking in some areas in relation to feeling safe and comfortable in residence. Most of UNB’s residences have gender neutral bathrooms, which is not an issue, except for the fact that some of the residence bathrooms do not have locks or doors on the showers, meaning that only a curtain separates you from the outside,” she said. “Gender neutral bathrooms are more than ok and should be embraced, however, it is important that there are mechanisms in place that help people feel safe while doing so.”
Maggie Forsythe, CSASA and Director of Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Programming at Sexual Violence New Brunswick, explained that this new strategy will aim to focus on the best initialtives for each campus.
In correlation with UNB’s sexual assault policy, they aim to make everyone in a position of leadership on campus aware of the CSASA’s office and services. This would also build upon current initiatives such as posters in bathrooms which provide victims the opportunity to use a “disclosure” card. This card can be discreetly presented at the campus clinic, following which the student will be connected with the CSASA.
Forsythe explained that, at UNB, STU, and NBCC there are events and training sessions that “have been and will continue to be offered to support students as well as staff.”
Neither Swan nor Pendleton were available for comment.
*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity