Hamilton gets financial boost for sexual violence awareness programs

The federal government gives the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and McMaster University funding for sexual violence awareness programs.

'Women aged 14-25 are four times more likely to experience sexual violence'

Women in Canada aged 14-25 are four times more at risk to experience sexual violence. (Audra Petrulis/Special to CBC)

Emma is a different person than she was five years ago, but not for reasons that are easy to digest.

The 24-year-old McMaster University student (Emma is not her real name) has been sexually assaulted twice since she began attending the school.

The first time was about five years ago. A male friend came over to keep her company after her grandmother passed away. The two were just sitting on the couch watching football when she was assaulted.

The second time she was leaving the campus pub and stopped to meet friends on her way home. Emma said she woke up in an unfamiliar bed, bottoms off and unable to find her underwear.

"Who I was on that night died," she said. 

Emma now volunteers at McMaster's Student Health Education Centre where she offers peer support to other students in need. Now the on-campus programs she works for are getting a financial boost.

'Women aged 14-25 are four times more likely to experience sexual violence'

The federal government announced, this week, a $200,000 funding grant to the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and YWCA Hamilton to support students at the university. Nation-wide, about $4 million dollars will go to 21 organizations for projects related to sexual violence on university and college campuses.

In Hamilton, the money will go towards a partnership that is already in place between the centre and the campus. It means more education and a campaign to raise awareness, said Lenore Lukasik-Foss, director of the Sexual Assault Centre.

"It is a certain time in young folks' lives when they are at higher risk," she said.

Lukasik-Foss said in Canada, women aged 14-25 are four times more likely to experience sexual violence, including assault and harassment.

"For some, [going to university] means more freedom and opportunity to engage with others," she said. "If the student is away from home or not, they are in a new phase of independence."

McMaster already has strong programs in place to help students dealing with sexual violence incidences, said Lukasik-Foss, but more help is needed.

Emma said she actively sought out resources and counseling, but it was difficult to find help.

'I was floored at how relaxed society is about this. It's a life changing event.'— Emma

"I was floored at how relaxed society is about this," she said. "It's a life changing event."

Lukasik-Foss said it is always a struggle for centres like hers to get to get the word out that there is help available, but it seems more people are coming forward.

Help line has 'received 40 per cent more calls' this year than last

The Sexual Assault Centre's 24-hour help line had received 40 per cent more calls this fiscal year than the last. That means the line received about 1100 calls from both young women and men.

Does this mean people are getting more comfortable speaking about sexual violence or there are more incidences?

"That's the million dollar question," said Lukasik-Foss. "We don't know, but we do know 94 per cent of victims don't report [incidences of sexual violence.]"

Emma still seeks counseling today to help her deal with her past. Her assaults took a toll on her health and she suffers from anxiety.

But, she got to the point where she was sick of being a victim. She changed her major to psychology and looking to pursue a masters degree in social work so she can be there to help women who have been in her shoes.

The Sexual Assault Centre and McMaster will launch an official campaign in January, said Lukasik-Foss.


  • Editor's note: This story was amended to protect the identity of "Emma," which is not her real name.
    Oct 19, 2017 11:25 AM ET