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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Read the policies, know what consent is, create a safe space for all

April 11, 2017 — 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the University of Manitoba encourages the community to get involved in activities around sexual assault prevention (see opportunities below).  

Although sexual assault prevention and education is a conversation that is, and should be, happening throughout the year, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important because it gives space to further increase community awareness around the issues related to all forms of sexual violence.

“Openly talking about sexual violence education, prevention and support is an important part of building a culture of safety and respect,” says Katie Kutryk, registered nurse and the U of M’s health and wellness educator. “Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time when we can collectively act as a community, as we all have a role to play in ending sexual violence. It is a month where we can draw attention to the work that has been, is being, and will be done on campus. By acknowledging the issue in a bigger way, we want to communicate to the community, especially to those who have experienced sexual violence– as they are our first concern — that we care and support individuals who choose to disclose.”

Healhy U volunteers in University Centre on April 11 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Healthy U volunteers in University Centre on April 11 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

One way for students to get involved in this ongoing conversation is by volunteering their time and participating in groups like Healthy U, a peer health educator program in Student Support. Healthy U volunteers are trained to provide peer-to-peer outreach in sexual health topics, including consent, sexual assault, on and off campus resources, and healthy relationships.

The team of Healthy U volunteers tries to reach as many students as possible through interactive and engaging events. Related to Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the students are posting daily on their social media accounts as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the issue, how to find resources and the importance of supporting survivors. They also held a table in University Centre where they gave away teal ribbons – the colour symbolizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month – and engaged with students about sexual assault resources and support. A number of Sexual Assault Awareness Month posters have also been placed around campus as part of their efforts.

Charlette Cunanan began volunteering with Healthy U in her second year at the U of M.

“I got really excited because it was health promotion and a volunteer opportunity where I could be trained and empower my peers through different forms of outreach,” says Cunanan, who believes Sexual Assault Awareness Month is very important.

“It’s a whole month dedicated to spreading awareness and a month of giving support to those who have experienced sexual assault,” says Cunanan. “It is a movement to prevent sexual violence from happening, a movement to support survivors by giving them hope to heal. By having enormous amounts of people having a conversation around sexual assault, we can all educate one another.”

“No one is alone to deal with the experience of sexual assault. There is a community of people who know what it takes to prevent this from happening. It all starts by being educated, knowing one’s rights, and helping those who need help,” says Cunanan.

 The goal of the University of Manitoba’s work in this area is to help provide support to students, staff and faculty who have experienced sexual assault and to help others to safely and effectively respond to disclosures of sexual assault says Susan Gottheil, Vice-Provost (Students). The University of Manitoba’s new standalone sexual assault policy, which was approved by the Board of Governors in June of 2016, was the product of a comprehensive consultation process encompassing many stakeholder groups on campus, including faculty, staff, and students and recognizes that the individual who experiences sexual assault is the final decision-maker about their own interests.

“By taking a supportive, survivor-centered approach in our policy and practices, we are hoping to create an environment in which people who have experienced sexual assault will feel safer to disclose this as they choose on campus,” said Gottheil.

Initiatives in the area of sexual assault are overseen by the University’s Sexual Assault and Violence Steering Committee (SAVSC, formerly the Sexual Assault Working Group), which was created in April 2014 and took on its current form in January 2017, with the primary goal of addressing sexual violence in a systematic, centralized and informed way. SAVSC is working closely with the University community to create new programs and campaigns to provide education and build a culture of consent on campus.

Many of the first projects will be a continuation of what was started with SAWG, but there will also be many new priorities and initiatives said Kutryk, who was appointed as co-chair of the steering committee.

“We’ve accomplished a lot since 2014, including a sexual assault prevention and education webpage, responding to disclosures guide, awareness and education campaigns and much more,” said Kutryk of the important resources that have been developed for students, staff and faculty.

One of these resources is Bringing in the Bystander, an evidence-based program that helps prevent sexual assault. Certified staff and student trainers for this program have been deployed on campus and will be offering sessions throughout the year, with a heavy focus on Orientation and Student Residences. Nearly 200 students have been trained in the bystander program since its launch.

“Our work in this area has been succeeding thanks to the support and commitment from our community, especially the student groups on campus. They have been vital in this process and we will continue to work together to further develop and evolve our programming,” said Susan Gottheil, Vice-Provost (Students).

Get involved

As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Government of Manitoba is hosting several events to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault, share information about available resources, and foster a greater understanding of consent.

Closer to campus, programs have been launched by students that community members can engage with. You can start by joining the conversation on Instagram (@umstudent) on April 11, when Charlette Cunanan takes over the account for the day.

 

Some other student-led ideas implemented include:

  • UMSU created a Frosh Fest Code of Conduct (including definitions of sexual assault and consent) that was sent to all students prior to frosh musical festival in September 2015.
  • UMSU supported Consent Culture Workshops provided by the Justice for Women Students Group. Launched in August 2015, this student-run program focuses solely on the topic of consent.
  • UMSU and Student Affairs began including sexual assault and consent messaging at New Student Orientation and other Orientation events.

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