Fund looks to prevent violence

A new governmental funding initiative aims to benefit women on university and college campuses across Canada by supporting local organizations that address sexual violence. Nearly $4 million is being distributed to 21 organizations that will work in partnership with various post-secondary institutions to deal with issues of violence against women on campus.

One organization that was included is the Sexual Support Centre of Waterloo Region, which is receiving $191,030 and will be working in partnership with the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University administration and student groups over the next couple of years.

Sara Casselman, the public relations and operations manager for the Sexual Support Centre, said that research will be conducted to “prevent future violence and if it does happen, how we can respond appropriately to that violence.”

When asked why it was beneficial for organizations to receive the funding, rather than having it given directly to universities and colleges, Casselman responded by saying, “Assault centres are experts in the area of sexual violence. We have the ability to kind of step back and use our expertise in partnership with both the students and the administration to effect change that would be meaningful.”

“Our role is amplifying student voices,” she continued.

“So as much as possible, to bring that lived experience of students out and to really look at how we can bring out our policies, our procedures, to better serve women on our campus.”

Addressing sexual violence is of particular importance for younger female demographics.

According to Casselman, “female undergraduates between the ages of 16 and 24 are four times more likely to experience violence,” while approximately 25 per cent of female post-secondary students have been victims of physical or sexual assault.

Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) national president Susan Murphy added that young women moving away from home for school may be especially vulnerable.

“It’s an opportunity for great experiences, but also risks that may not have been apparent or may not have been there in a home community,” she explained.

Murphy said that while the funding is commendable, there are still further steps to be taken.

“We would really support and have advocated for many years a national action plan for violence against women, that we need a more focused approach that incorporates the federal government and provincial government,” continued Murphy.

“We think if you have a national action plan you have the opportunity to benchmark, you set goals, you collect data in a more comprehensive way and you have better evidence of what works, what doesn’t work and what is actually going on.”

Murphy acknowledged the difficulty in gaining complete information on sexual violence due to the fact that many incidents go unreported.

“It’s very hard to know the degree to which incidents are taking place and are not being reported, the seriousness of them, and of course the traumatic impact on the individuals that have experienced this,” she said.

Casselman attributed this in part to victim blaming, which she said is prevalent in our society.

“With sexual violence especially, it remains such a taboo topic,” she said.

“There’s a lot of secrecy and a lot of shame that goes along with it.”

She continued, “I think a lot of people have some sense of it, but not quite an understanding of how common it is and how many women have had this experience.”

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