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Nova Scotia Student Unions Announce Partnership with Province to Prevent Sexual Assault and Reduce Alcohol Risks

Halifax—Nova Scotia Student Unions, with support from the Provincial Government, have announced multiple projects that aim to prevent sexual assault on campuses and reduce risks around alcohol consumption. The total value of the initiatives is $46,156, with contributions of $31,291 from the Province, $13,465 from student unions, and $1,400 from Cape Breton University.

“We’re very excited to pursue these important initiatives to improve our practices and protect our students”, said StudentsNS Chair Jared Perry. “Together, students and the Province are working to turn the tide on sexual assault and alcohol abuse among students.”

Nova Scotia has the highest rates of sexual assault in Canada, and post-secondary students are especially vulnerable. Fully 62% of university women in Canada say they have been sexually assaulted, while the majority of patients at the Avalon Centre’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program between 2010 and 2011 were women aged 17 to 25, with many of the cases involving drugs or alcohol. The percentage of Nova Scotia students who drink heavily at least once per month (51%) is also significantly higher than the national average (32%) and double the rate of the general population.

“We can’t control everything that happens on campus or in our communities but, where we can make a difference, we’re committed to doing our utmost to protect our students,” said Matthew Rios, Acadia Students’ Union President. “We know alcohol prohibition doesn’t work, but there are lots of things we can do to build a positive culture where students are responsible for themselves and looking out for each other.”

The projects include two separate reviews of student union policies and practices around alcohol and sexual assault prevention. Experienced consultant, Anne Martell, will complete the reviews under the guidance of steering committees comprised of student leaders from participating student unions. The research will provide student unions with best practices for ensuring their student bars and other activities are not only safe, but foster a culture of prevention. A portion of the project funding is allocated to support the implementation of review recommendations.

“Almost half of Nova Scotia university students come from outside the Province, while many local students may move to different communities to go to school. The social activities that we host go a long way to giving students social connections that very often endure full lifetimes, but most importantly help them be engaged, healthy and successful while at school,” said Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association VP Student Life, Carrigan Desjardins. “We’re excited to be running a lot of fun events in the coming week and throughout the school year, and while we already put a lot of thought into making sure our events are safe and healthy, we’re committed to continual improvement and confident these Reviews will help us to do better.

The sexual assault prevention Steering Committee will also develop a communications campaign to spread awareness of sexual assault and encourage bystander intervention. This campaign will be informed by Review findings.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that so many of our students are being sexually assaulted each year,” said Darcy Shea, Acadia VP Academic. “We want to send a message that we all share responsibility to prevent sexual assault and ensure our communities are safe.”

Student unions participating in the Reviews include the Acadia Students’ Union, Cape Breton University Students’ Union, Dalhousie Agriculture Students Association, Mount Saint Vincent University Students’ Union, StFX Students’ Union and the Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association. The Dalhousie Student Union will join these unions in implementing the sexual assault prevention communications campaign.

Kate Elliot