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Half of all post-secondary students in Alberta experience sexual and gender-based violence, new report finds

By Gabriela Dzięgielewska, September 26 2023—

A new 13,000 person survey released by the Alberta government this past August found that half of all post-secondary students in Alberta experienced some form of sexual and gender-based violence since starting their studies.  

The University of Calgary’s Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Support Team offers resources for students dealing with sexual and gender-based violence.

However, despite providing on-campus resources, students overwhelmingly don’t access those supports. 

According to the report, only 47 per cent of students agreed that there are resources available to those who experienced sexual and gender-based violence and only 38 per cent of students know where they can access those supports if they need them. 

The results suggest that post-secondary institutions are not adequately promoting sexual and gender-based violence resources to students. 

The report recommends that post-secondary institutions take steps to increase student awareness of available resources. 

“Alberta post-secondary institutions could consider ways to increase awareness of their supports available, and ensure students know they can access these services, no matter how big or small their experiences may seem,” read the executive summary of the report

In a statement to the Gauntlet, the University of Calgary says they are reviewing the results of the survey to inform their policy on student supports. 

“The University of Calgary participated in the Alberta Post-Secondary Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Survey in 2022-2023,” read the statement. “We appreciate the opportunity this survey provides to understand the climate related to sexual and gender-based violence across the province and on our campus. We are currently reviewing the results of the survey, which will inform both our policy review and the education, services, and supports provided to our community.”

The Minister of Advanced Education, Rajan Sawhney, asserted the ministry’s commitment to campus safety. 

“We remain committed to campus safety, including the prevention of gender-based violence. This report gives us a clearer picture of students’ experiences across the province so we can address gaps and move forward with strong, survivor-centric supports,” read a statement in the ministry’s media release.

The Advanced Education Ministry does not specify what responsibility, if any, it believes the provincial government has in providing resources to post-secondary institutions to tackle this issue. Since the release of the statement on Aug. 30, the ministry has not committed to any measures aimed at confronting sexual and gender-based violence experienced by students. 

Student services on post-secondary campuses, such as sexual violence support teams, have suffered due to extensive budget cuts to post-secondary institutions by the Alberta government. 

In 2022, data released by Higher Education Strategy Associates showed a 31 per cent decrease in funding for post-secondary over the previous five years. This leaves post-secondary institutions trying to maintain the quality and range of their services while dealing with less available funding. 

Meanwhile, the ministry places the responsibility of addressing sexual and gender-based violence on Alberta campuses with post-secondary institutions.

“Post-secondary institutions will use data from the report to address needs specific to their campuses including, but not limited to, improving reporting processes, intervening as a bystander, how to respond to a disclosure and increasing awareness of available supports,” continues the release. 

In their statement, the University of Calgary announced an upcoming review of the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Policy

“The university will embark on a consultative process this year, in a scheduled review of this policy to ensure our campuses continue to be safe and will communicate any updates with our UCalgary community.”

Further, the university emphasized its commitment to fostering an inclusive environment. 

“The health, safety and well-being of our students, staff and faculty is our priority at the University of Calgary. We are committed to fostering and promoting an equitable, inclusive environment shaped by a culture of consent and respect. As part of this commitment, for the past six years, the University of Calgary has had a standalone Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Policy which applies to all members of the university community – including students, faculty, and staff – and operates alongside other applicable university policies and procedures,” read the statement.

The Sexual and Gender-Based Violence policy outlines the ways in which the U of C will respond to formal disclosures and reports of sexual and gender-based violence. 

“In a diverse university community like the University of Calgary, any response will need to reflect an intersectional lens, and assess if Sexual and Gender-Based Violence are compounded by other potential vulnerabilities, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, indigeneity, race/ethnicity, religion, disability, or age,” read the policy. 

The full report on sexual and gender-based violence in Alberta post-secondary released by the Alberta government can be found here.

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