The University of New Brunswick Fredericton, St. Thomas University and New Brunswick Community College announced a three-year $80,000 per year joint sexual assault strategy on Thursday.
The three institutions, in partnership with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre, will use the funding to support students, create public awareness and provide training and professional development programs.
“The [sexual assault] issue is not just a UNB or a STU issue or a NBCC issue, it often involves members that are at different institutions and it would be very difficult indeed for one institution to try to respond to that. Given the nature of our shared community, it’s absolutely essential that we work together to be able to come up with responses and policies that work for all three institutions,” said George MacLean, UNB vice-president academic.
The strategy will focus on four areas of addressing sexual violence on campus: policy development, prevention and education, interventions and response and research and evaluation.
“We realized that working with sexual violence on campus isn’t just about a one off position or a campus sexual assault support advocate,” said Maggie Forsythe, UNB’s campus sexual assault support advocate.
“We want to be looking at things like adding awareness around sexual violence, also measuring how interventions or prevention strategies are working to meet the goals and the needs of the student population. We want to make sure that we’re really addressing the needs of those coming forward to tall about their experiences.”
The joint program builds off the work UNB has already done to address sexual assault on campus. UNB released its Sexual Assault Policy and Procedures document in May 2016 and hired Forsythe from the Fredericton Sexual Assault Center as the new campus sexual assault support advocate last September. Forsythe will now be shared between the three campuses.
Since Forsythe was brought to UNB, there has been an increase in sexual assault disclosures on the UNB campus – usually a number that was under 10 per year.
“We had an increase of disclosure of sexual violence. People willing to come forward and talk about their experiences of sexual violence, which is so special. But also even more important, too, is we’re seeing so much success within our institutions. We have seen people reaching our goals, people accessing the accessibility centre and resources on campus that have been ignored,” said Forsythe.
The funding is established for a three-year period. After two years, it will be reviewed to decide if it will be renewed. Although how the institutions will measure success has yet to be established, Mark Walma, UNB’s assistant vice-president of student services, said that it will likely involve assessing the attitudes of the campus community towards sexual violence through surveys as well as looking at the the number of disclosures.
“One of the things that’s important to me is we’re not necessarily trying to generate complaints, but the number of people who feel safe enough to come forward and to disclose,” Walma said. “Sexual assault is underreported, particularly in our society, and the goal of the campus sexual assault advocate is not to get a lot of complaints generated but to get support to survivors.”
For Forsythe, success of the joint initiative will be measured partly by tackling misconceptions surrounding sexual violence.
“We’re working with a culture that doesn’t really understand what sexual violence looks like and thinks it’s a very specific thing. They think it’s stranger in the bushes jumping out at you and that’s not at all. You see, sexual violence mostly happens in relationships or between people who know each other, and so it’s going to be very important to be able to contribute to the culture where people are starting to understand that and talk about it.”