British Columbia

Sexual assault support centre at University of B.C. looks to increase budget amidst surge in calls, visits

The Sexual Assault Support Centre at the University of British Columbia is seeking a big budget increase with calls and visits reportedly doubling since the start of the pandemic.

The proposed fee increase would add $6.42 per student

The AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre at the University of British Columbia is reporting a doubling in calls and visits since the pandemic began, leading to a request for a considerable budget increase. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) at the University of British Columbia is hoping students approve a budget increase as calls and visits to the centre have reportedly doubled since the start of the pandemic.

The centre, which is operated by the university's Alma Mater Society (AMS), is proposing an increase to the annual fee students pay, but the proposal will have to pass a referendum to go ahead.

According to Aashna Josh, who manages SASC, calls and visits to the 20-year-old centre have tripled since the last fee increase in 2018 and continued to rise dramatically through the pandemic.

"We're seeing a huge increase in demand for services," said Josh, adding that they'd like to add full time staff, increase hours of operation, and add emergency funds for students in crisis for things like taxis and hotels.

The pandemic has contributed to an increase in domestic and sexualized violence, according to a national survey, but Josh believes the rate of in-person sexual assault reported by UBC students has remained relatively consistent.

Instead she attributes the significant rise in traffic at SASC to two main changes: the centre has made texting, video and phone services more accessible, and the additional layers of pandemic-related stress turning existing sexual assault into a greater crisis for people.

"When we are under duress, or experiencing a lot of stress, the impacts of sexualized violence, the trauma from that, can become more exacerbated, so folks reach out in crisis more," she said.

The centre currently gets $9.58 from each of the university's roughly 54,000 students each year, amounting to a budget of about $517,000. 

The proposed fee increase would add $6.42 per student, increasing SASC's annual budget to about $864,000. According to Josh, the centre needs at least $630,000, and the extra would help increase services.

In total, UBC students now pay a little less than $500 in AMS student fees, some of which they can opt out of. There are also a little more than $400 in non-AMS student fees at the university.

Students will have the chance to vote on SASC's requested increase next month.

now