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Group works towards sexual assault response protocol

November 25, 2014 — 

It’s been all over the news this year, from breaking stories about a disturbing prevalence of rape culture to accusations directed at some very public personalities. Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — and what better day for a conversation about the prevalence of sexual assault?

 

A group of about 30 at the U of M is working towards a sexual assault response protocol.

 

A group of about 30 at the U of M is working towards a sexual assault response protocol to help propel that conversation and to help people with their response to sexual assault.

Three of the people in that group are Student Affairs‘ Katie Kutryk, health and wellness educator, Jodie Schoenbeck, student support case manager — also its co-chairs– and David Ness, associate prof and head of the Student Counselling Centre. Ness says that the group came together last spring because “many people on campus recognized for some time that it was important [to] make this campus as safe [as possible] for women and as positively responsive [as possible] when something tragic does occur.

“Back in the spring there were some stories across the country about rape cultures in Canada that are obviously very destructive against women. Everywhere in society, not just on university campuses … since every university is just a microcosm of society,” he says.

“We wanted to make it a place where if a woman did come forward with a story of being assaulted, they would receive the best response to that — a helpful, appropriate response…. Because it’s unpredictable, the kind of responses women receive. And the university valued that approach, having a better process in place.” Ness includes men in that number as well, noting that while victims of sexual assault are predominantly women, there are also men who experience sexual assault.

Many people are working hard on the project, says Ness, who calls it “a collective group effort. We also have community partners who are joining with us, [such as Winnipeg’s] Klinic [Community Health Centre] and [the] SANE [program].” (The SANE program, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program is a program located in Health Sciences Centre for any man, woman or child who has experienced sexual assault. The fully trained specialized Forensic Nurse Examiners provide full, sensitive and compassionate care including medical care/testing, connect to counselling, and connect to Winnipeg Police Service if the person chooses, all within a very private, calming and welcoming “sexual assault suite” within the first 120 hours of an assault occurring.

“And I think it’s important that it’s a collaborative effort, because there are a lot of stakeholders involved,” he adds.

The other piece of the puzzle is education and prevention.

 

Ness: “More discussion, bringing it out into the open, has potential to improve the situation.”

 

It’s why the working group includes two sub-committees, one for a response protocol and the other, for education and supportive activities. Health and wellness educator Katie Kutryk says that the university sees assault “as a priority issue that we are collectively committed to addressing…. Building awareness and educating the campus community about sexual assault as well as consent and resources, through workshops, presentations and awareness campaigns, are an integral part of addressing this issue and bringing about collective change. Education and awareness is key in sustaining open, effective and safe conversations about this issue, challenging old stereotypes and myths and supporting those who may have experienced sexual assault in a caring and empathetic way.”

According to Ness, education began at Orientation this year — “for example, educating people that if a woman is drunk, she cannot legally give consent to sexual behaviour.”

There are a lot of confusing messages out there in society, he continues. “We look at movies, for example, and how often does a man forcibly kiss a woman who initially resists, and then changes to being an apparently consenting partner? What kind of message does that give? I don’t think [it’s] a healthy one.”

Ness says, “More discussion, bringing it out into the open, has potential to improve the situation. Our approach aims to be inclusive … we have to look at ‘how do we change the climate?’, educate and so forth, to make it a more positive and safer environment for women. Even the situation with [CBC broadcaster Jian] Ghomeshi — that’s an opportunity. It brings it into the national consciousness and there can be discussion. I think that’s also important, not just having it [be] silent…. To make change happen. And when the media cycle rolls onto another event … that we don’t lose sight of it.

“Not to just have a response when something awful happens, but to try to prevent something awful happening, too.”

See some critical information on the sexual assault website. It will be improved over the next while, note Ness and Kutryk, as the group further develops its strategy.

***

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

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