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Half of Alberta post-secondary students have experienced sexual or gender-based violence according to survey

Out of a sample of nearly 13,000 post-secondary students across Alberta, half say they have experienced sexual or gender-based violence in some form since attending their institution, according to a report from MacEwan University. 

“I’m sad to read these statistics, but I’m not surprised,” said Chris Beasley, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS). He noted that similar statistics have been recorded in other jurisdictions and internal university surveys.

“Students have been telling us for years that this is the depth of the problem,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

While national data has been gathered on campus sexual and gender-based violence, this report is the first time Alberta-specific data has been collected, according to a news release Wednesday from the province.

The province funded the survey and it was developed by a MacEwan University working group and delivered by Leger.

Post-secondary schools will use the data to improve the reporting process, support available, and educational resources like bystander intervention training, the province said.

Man in suit sitting at table.
Chris Beasley, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students, noted students have been talking about the pervasiveness of campus sexual and gender-based violence for a long time. (Submitted by Chris Beasley)

It also noted $2.5 million given in February 2022 to support post-secondary sexual and gender-based violence initiatives.

Sexual harassment was the most common form of violence reported in the survey, at 45 per cent. One in 10 respondents experienced intimate partner violence since starting school, and 11 per cent experienced sexual assault.

Mary Jane James, chief executive officer of the Edmonton Sexual Assault Centre, agreed with Beasley.

“The statistics are not surprising to me. In fact, we know that the largest demographic to experience sexual violence and to perpetrate sexual violence are young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.”

“And despite the collective efforts of sexual assault centres on campuses around the province, we’re still seeing the same results,” James said.

A woman sits in a chair.
Mary Jane James is the CEO of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton. (Girl Named Shirl Photography)

CAUS called the situation an emergency and said that post-secondary institutions are not equipped to address it independently. 

“In the wake of a lot of the cuts that these institutions have faced, there’s no money anymore,” said Beasley. “And so whenever we ask for money to go to sexual violence supports, it comes from something else.”

Beasley said he wants to see provincial support on things like a consent awareness campaign and bringing sexual assault centres to campuses that don’t currently have them.

CBC News requested a comment from the province about whether it was considering funding these initiatives but received no response before publication.

One statistic from the survey said that less than half, or 47 per cent, of respondents believe there are student supports available for sexual and gender-based violence. From that number, very few students do access the support.

“The primary reason for not accessing these services is that they feel the experience was not significant or serious enough to talk about or access help,” the report said.

James said another one of the takeaways is the work that still needs to be done around stigma.

“Silence and shame is what’s allowed this issue to permeate our world for as long as it has.”

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