This text is part of the special section Acfas prices
Manon Bergeron has been fighting against sexual violence for almost thirty years. First as a sexologist at the Center for Support and Combating Sexual Assault (CALAC) and since 2010 as a researcher in the Department of Sexology at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). Her work is bearing fruit: the ESSIMU survey (Sexuality, Safety and Interactions in University Environments), which she conducted in 2016, was well received by the political authorities and led to a “robust” law. This year, Acfas awarded him the Thérèse Gouin-Décarie Prize in Social Sciences. Portrait of a dedicated researcher.
“I became interested in sexual violence by chance,” remembers the winner. “I was just finishing my high school diploma in sexology and had to find an internship in a practice. I looked through a directory of community organizations and discovered one that specialized in sexual assault. It immediately caught my attention.” Violence of this kind was taboo at the time and ignored. She saw an opportunity – and ended up holding that position for 13 years.
There she was able to closely observe the impact of the revelations made by singer Nathalie Simard, who in 2005 denounced her former manager Guy Cloutier, who had been convicted of sexual assault when she was a minor. “It showed the silence in which she was trapped and how she was able to escape. It gave hope to those going through something similar. It has sensitized the population. »
The sexologist then decided to return to her studies and came to UQAM as a professor, where she quickly put the experience she had gained in this field into practice. In 2016, with the #MeToo movement in full swing, she launched an investigation aimed at documenting sexual assaults on university campuses – a first in Quebec. The results are shocking: “More than a third (36.9%) of respondents reported at least one form of sexual victimization,” we read in the report. “That caused a shock wave,” the researcher remembers. For some people, it was unimaginable that sexual violence could occur in a place like a university. »
His work has resonated across the province: Law 22.1 on the prevention of sexual violence in universities, passed in 2017, is heavily inspired by the results of his research. The following year, she was named Radio-Canada’s Scientist of the Year, a rarity for a social science researcher. This nomination sparks controversy, particularly because Manon Bergeron does not hide her feminist loyalties. “It’s part of my identity,” she confirms. For me, the feminist approach means placing sexual violence in its social context. »
Documenting the unexplored
Since then, Manon Bergeron has continued to push her cause forward. As holder of the Research Chair in Gender-Specific and Sexual Violence in Higher Education (VSSMES), she and other researchers examine the phenomenon from all perspectives. In 2020, a report on sexual violence in higher education settings revealed a worrying situation: “Almost one in three people (29.9%) have experienced some form of VSMC [violence sexuelle en milieu collégial] in the year before the survey. » She recently co-authored a portrait of the situation among LGBTQ+ populations that highlights their very high vulnerability to this violence. The chair is also interested in the indigenous population.
Who stays in the shadows? “People with disabilities,” she answers without hesitation. There are many myths and prejudices surrounding them. They deserve attention. »
The researcher modestly says that her successes are due to teamwork. “For me it is a prerequisite for success,” she says passionately. When we identify needs together, we create projects that have an impact on society. » A concrete example: the Empreinte sexual assault prevention program, developed in collaboration with 26 CALACS and implemented in secondary schools across Quebec. “I am proud that so many young people benefit from this. »
For Manon Bergeron, the work is not yet finished; she is already thinking about the next five years of her professorship. All the better: thanks to her, the fight against sexual violence is not stalling.
This content was created by Le Devoir’s Special Publications team, reporting to Marketing. The editors of Le Devoir did not take part.