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McGill’s Sexual Assault Centre faces fee referendum

SSMU considers alternatives to student referenda

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), funded by McGill students since 1994, is set to be subject to the ballot box next week as part of SSMU’s Winter 2013 Referendum period.

Because of its status as a student service with a levied fee, SACOMSS must run a referendum to renew its non-opt-outable $0.75 fee every three years.

SACOMSS is a volunteer-run organization and, according to a spokesperson, is the only sexual assault centre in Montreal that offers its services to people of all genders and sexualities under an anti-oppressive mandate.

“Having a sexual assault centre operating under that framework is really important […] especially on a university campus,” Lily Hoffman, an external coordinator with SACOMSS and co-chairperson of its ‘Yes’ committee, told The Daily.

“A sexual assault centre that’s available for support to people who experience sexual assault, or who have people in their communities who do, is really valuable to creating a safe community where people can feel they can talk about their experiences,” Hoffman said.

While SACOMSS would continue to exist even if it lost its referendum, the loss of student funding would jeopardize its ability to offer services.

According to its Facebook page, the $0.75 fee goes toward supporting its phone line, drop-in services, support groups, education campaigns, and advocacy and accompaniment services.

According to Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Lydia White, the University also provides services to survivors of sexual assault along with SACOMSS.

“The University offers a variety of services to students in crisis, including those who have been the victims of sexual assault,” White wrote in an email to The Daily. “These services include: the McGill Health Services, McGill Mental Health Services, McGill Counseling Services, McGill Security Services and McGill Chaplaincy Services.”

As for whether it was appropriate for a sexual assault centre to be subject to referenda, White noted, “It would be inappropriate for the University [to] comment on the SSMU referendum question, or the appropriateness of the fee renewal or increase.”

When asked about the inclusion of McGill Security Services as a resource for survivors of sexual assault, SSMU VP Club & Services Allison Cooper spoke to key differences between the two organizations.

“That speaks to the expertise that students have in running these services, because SACOMSS is so powerfully different than Security Services or those other services,” she told The Daily. “It speaks to a misunderstanding of [the issue].”

For Cooper, the notion of holding referenda for student services – especially for SACOMSS – is absurd. SSMU is currently looking into placing SACOMSS under the SSMU base fee so that it could avoid facing the ballot box every three years, she said.

The SSMU base fee accounts for the operating budget of the student union. It pays for administrative fees, governance, operations, campus events, and the upkeep of the Shatner building.