Kingston’s Sexual Assault Center braces for cuts from Student Choice Initiative

The Center could lose up to $21,000 in student fees

The Sexual Assault Center faces uncertain student funding following the Student Choice Initiative. 
Credit: 
Supplied by the Sexual Assault Center Kingston

The Sexual Assault Center Kingston (SACK) could lose as much as $21,000 in annual funding as a result of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), The Journal has learned.

Following the Ontario government’s implementation of the SCI, the Center’s fee, mandatory since 1989, has lost that status, allowing students to opt out of it until the end of September.

Between the two fees the Center collects, one from undergraduate students and one from graduate students, SACK’s executive director Brea Hutchinson said the service received about four per cent of its budget from student fees.

 “It’s heartbreaking,” Hutchinson said in an interview with The Journal. “It means we’ll spend more time talking about the work we do rather than doing it.”

Hutchinson said she suspected the Center would lose its mandatory funding “the second” she heard about the SCI.

“I knew we wouldn’t be counted as safety, which is really a shame because it talks about how our prevention work isn’t seen as safety,” Hutchinson said. “Campus security, athletics are mandatory and folks need to do those, they have to support those, but when it comes to preventing sexual violence, that’s an option.”

Hutchinson said the Center assists between 450 and 480 survivors a year, and about 80 of them are Queen’s students—an amount she said is increasing due to longer wait times at the University.

“Queen’s is picking up the ball and starting to do prevention work,” she said. “Good on them. We are the experts. We have been doing that longer than any office at Queen’s has.”

She added that the Center’s services are free of charge and there is no cap on counselling sessions.

“When you get matched with a counsellor, you’re locked in,” Hutchinson said. “You’re here until you feel ready to leave, and that’s not like half-hour sessions or day-of sessions. That’s a long-term relationship.”

Hutchinson said the Center works with Queen’s University to put out prevention efforts, but it also supports survivors through Criminal Injuries Compensation (CIC) hearings and advocates for better police interactions with survivors who report incidents of sexual violence.

“I do have high hopes for Queen’s students,” she said. “I think when they’re going through that list they’re going to see us and recognize the good work we do. I have faith. I hope I’m not proven wrong.”

Hutchinson admitted she understands why Queen’s students might want to opt out of non-mandatory fees.

“Students have OSAP cuts and that puts more pressure on their budgets,” she said. “That’s also happening at a macro level.”

Hutchinson pointed to the Center’s own financial struggles, which include funding freezes from the provincial government. “[It] puts pressure on us and then it puts pressure on all our service users, which puts even more pressure across the whole system,” she said.

Like other services at Queen’s, Hutchinson said the Center won’t know how much funding it will lose until the end of September when the student opt-out period ends.

“I like to believe that Queen’s students are reasoned and they’re going to see what we do and feel confident that we’re worth their support, however we can’t take that for certain,” she said. “We have to really try our hardest to demonstrate our worth and value to Queen’s students.”

Hutchinson added that support for the Center is worth it because “everyone stands to benefit from a world free of sexual violence.”

“At the Sexual Assault Center, not only do we support all survivors of sexual assault, not only do we provide comprehensive and amazing counselling and mental health support for all survivors, we also advocate and build and campaign for a community free of sexual violence.”  

 

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