Since its inception in 2007 the Coalition for a Carleton Sexual Assault Centre (the Coalition) has been active and vocal in supporting survivors of sexual assault and representing students’ demands for a student-run sexual assault support centre on our campus.
We are encouraged that Carleton’s upper administration has announced a plan to open a sexual assault centre in September of 2012. President Runte, finally responding to years of student pressure, has acknowledged that sexual assault and gender-based violence are pervasive problems on Carleton’s campus.
By planning to open an administration-run centre, the University has ignored and silenced the main message of students’ demands: that the centre be an independent and non-biased space for support. Reports on sexual assault support consistently conclude that survivors find the most effective models to be those that employ non-medical, peer-support, and survivor-directed frameworks. At present, this is only offered to Carleton students through our volunteer-run and community funded support line. While we recognise that this is a step in the right direction, the approach taken is still troubling. No survivor looking for support should ever have to settle, and neither will we.
The counselling proposed to be offered at this centre would simply be replicating services already available at Carleton’s Health and Counselling and Equity Services. Reproducing services which are already deemed inadequate by survivors is not an effective way of ending gender-based violence and supporting survivors. When asked, Carleton University was unable to answer as to whether or not peer support would be the crux of this new centre. Conversely, the student-run peer support model which the Coalition has been campaigning for since 2007, and will continue to demand, would actually alleviate the pressure on the services currently available by offering a diversity of services. A centre with a survivor-directed approach that is student-run would be accessible to a wider campus community. It would allow students on academic probation, international students, alumni, faculty and staff access to these support services without a conflict of interest. This would form a community network of integrated support for survivors of violence at Carleton.
We know that peer support works. Peer support is a model endorsed by countless sexual assault centres across the country and is frequently used in the fields of mental health, addictions, employment support, and others. Peer support is not only effective but cost efficient.
The Coalition still believes in these truths and will continue to be a voice for students’ demands. We look forward to participating in the creation of this new centre and hope that the President’s announcement transforms into greater trust and collaboration from our administration.