New Services on the Way for Next Academic Year
February 3 marked a major success for the Mt. A community—after years of advocacy work, the University’s sexualized violence policy received approval from the Board of Regents. Dr. Tasia Alexopoulos, Mt. A’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator, was ecstatic at the news.
“I was really thrilled that it finally got passed. It’s been a really long process,” she said. “There were a lot of difficulties getting to this point […] we have such a good policy now. It’s very survivor-centered, very trauma-informed, very clear about guidelines… I think it’s going to make such a big difference.”
“Since I [started working] here in 2014, I’ve seen so many incredible survivors and activists doing amazing things on campus,” she added, describing the vital role of activism in driving this policy to the forefront of concerns on campus.
Last semester, a variety of sessions and feedback forms were available to address concerns, questions, and points of improvement for the policy before it was finalized this month. Alexopoulos reflected on the results of these feedback sessions, explaining that questions on how to enforce mandatory education on consent and sexual violence prevention, the vagueness of certain procedures, and other small edits and clarifications that came up were added to the final document. “The [feedback] procedure really allowed us to make sure that the policy that goes on the website points people in the right direction,” she explained.
Originally, the policy writers gave a long list of potential outcomes for sexual violence disclosures available to survivors; however, the framing did not emphasize the survivors’ control over these outcomes. “For example, we would never ask someone to do an apology process unless the survivor asked for it,” Alexopoulous added.
Another amendment to the policy is that sexual violence education is now required on campus. However, specific enforcement of this element of the policy will be decided by the university administration. Fees, registration blocks, and marks on records are some ideas that have been suggested.
Hazing was also brought up in feedback forms and has become completely banned on campus. “Hazing is banned on campus. Nobody can consent to be hazed on campus and hazing is now a violation of the sexual violence policy,” Alexopoulos announced.
Alexopoulos also highlighted a variety of contributors to the now-implemented policy. The biggest shoutout to those involved in the process was survivors: “that is the biggest group of people involved in this process. Every survivor who has ever stepped foot on this campus.” She also gave shoutouts to current students, alumni, staff, and faculty who were all involved in this process, alongside Anne Comfort (Vice-President, International and Student Affairs), Dr. Lisa Dawn Hamilton (Psychology), Dr. Krista Johnston (Women and Gender Studies; Canadian Studies), and student committee members, such as Sara-Ann Strong. “I’m always going to miss someone in these lists though,” she added, highlighting the wide reach and community involvement in this process.
Despite these celebratory remarks, though, nearby shortfalls of the justice system have dampened the outlook for legal action against sexual violence cases. In late February, a Moncton provincial court lawyer stayed charges on a case of sexual assault. The course states that this was due to the staff shortage and limited resources available to try a case in a reasonable time, which is outlined as a right in Canadian law.
“The situation in Moncton is a huge failure of a system that already regularly fails sexual violence survivors,” Alexopoulos explained. The defense argued that it was a violation of their Charter rights, and in some sense that is true,” she clarified, “but on the other hand, it would be interesting to know how other charges are processed, and if their charges are stayed at the same rates.”
Alexopoulos, as well as Jade Lister, the Sexual Violence Response, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Consultant, are both aware of the court’s failings to fully support survivors and aim to incorporate information on this inaccessibility when granting services. “Students under our care have to be given good information so they can make the decisions that are right for them. And Jade can absolutely support them through that process, and we can connect students to outside resources that can do this kind of support, like legal support.”
“We have an internal process and an external, or we can do an internal and external process at the same time,” she added, indicating other opportunities for services that do not necessarily involve the criminal justice system. Paperwork on all cases reported to Mt. A is kept permanently and confidentially, so if a survivor wishes to later use the documentation, they are able to without having to re-disclose their circumstances.
Mt. A has exciting new additions to the sexual violence prevention team as well. “For the coming year, we will actually have an extra staff member,” she noted. This new staff member is part of the Government of New Brunswick and Sexual VIolence New Brunswick’s pilot project alongside the Beauséjour Family Crisis Resource Center in Shediac. The staff will be a full-time counsellor dedicated to sexual violence work for the Mt. A community. A similar project is also launching at Université de Moncton in Edmunston, where a position similar to Alexopoulos’ will be publicly funded.
“Obviously we have the counsellors now, but there’s only two… people can now access someone very qualified, very quickly” for free, in-person counselling sessions.
“We will have access to [the Beauséjour] resources as well. Their center has a forensic examination room, a soft interview room… facility dogs… and of course, every survivor can call them at any time to use these, but next year there will be more direct access.”
“I don’t think we would have been considered to be a part of this pilot project if we weren’t in the process of completely overhauling our system,” she added.
If you or someone you know is in need of sexual violence support, please contact Jade Lister, Sexual Violence Response, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Consultant, by email at [email protected]. If you are interested in taking the free Seeds of Change training module by checking out using the checkout code “MTA2324” on the Sexual Violence New Brunswick website.