Sexual assault experts have joined the Mount Royal University campus in Calgary to support victims in a first-of-its-kind partnership.
A sexual support counsellor from Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA) is offering one-on-one services once a week — including throughout the summer — to students who are victims of sexual violence.
“Schools have an ethical obligation to support people who are wanting to come forward to report,” said Cari Ionson, a sexual violence response and awareness co-ordinator.
Ionson was hired by the university in January 2016 to ensure that the school is adequately able to respond when sexual assault victims come forward. She also promotes education and awareness campaigns on campus.
CCASA, an agency that offers counselling, educational resources and group support to sexual assault survivors, has set up a satellite office on campus but current students aren’t the only victims who can use the services. Ionson said victims could have suffered sexual violence before they attended Mount Royal.
“I think that there is an idea how someone is supposed to act a certain way when they're traumatized,” Ionson said. “But the reality of trauma is that it will come out in a lot of different ways.”
Ionson believes that universities can benefit from partnerships with similar support centres for victims of sexual violence. They have a wealth of knowledge they can share with post-secondary institutions.
“It's about creating safety and creating a justified society,” Ionson said.
Ionson expects the program, along with increased awareness about sexual assault on campus, will lead to an increase in the number of students coming forward.
Danielle Aubry, CCASA's executive director, said that the service has so successful that the demand has doubled since the program began earlier this year.
“We've been flying since then,” Aubry said.
The partnership between CCASA and the university extends back several years when they jointly launched a peer-led dating violence prevention program.
They also partnered, along with other Alberta universities, in 2015 for the #IBelieveYou educational campaign to promote what they called “supportive responses” to sexual assault.