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Samantha Lucy

Institutional support for sexual assault survivors a positive step

Last week, the University of Calgary bussed students to the Alberta legislature to take part in a PSA video for the provincial “I Believe You” campaign.

Now in its second year, “I Believe You” is an initiative introduced by the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) and the Alberta Ministry of Human Services. The campaign aims to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault and create an environment where survivors are comfortable coming forward to authorities.

“We want to flood the internet with love and support for survivors of sexual assault. If there was a call to action, that’s what it would be,” AASAS Chief Executive Officer Deb Tomlinson said of the campaign.

The U of C’s involvement in the campaign is a positive step forward in creating a culture of consent and support for sexual assault survivors on campus. The university’s role as a large institution amplifies the importance of its support.

According to AASAS, up to 97 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to police. This is largely due to the harsh scrutiny sexual assault survivors face — what were you wearing? Were you drinking? Are you sure you didn’t enjoy it?

This scrutiny often comes from institutions — police, hospitals, the courts, media and even universities. Many sexual assault survivors are dismissed because their experiences don’t fit society’s idea of what rape looks like.

People often picture sexual assault as a man jumping a girl in a dark alley. The reality is much more chilling. According to AASAS, four out of five sexual assault victims knew the perpetrator. And more than half of all sexual assaults take place in the victim’s home or within 1.6 kilometres of it.

Many sexual assault victims are in long-term relationships with their abuser. Many are children. Many are men. Campaigns like “I Believe You” promote the idea that no matter who you are, you will be believed, your trauma is valid and there is support for you. Now that is the message the U of C promotes too.

The video at the legislature isn’t the first produced by the U of C for “I Believe You.” Over the past month, clubs, residence groups, administration and student government have contributed to similar videos or messages with the same theme — believing survivors of sexual assault. Prior to that, our campus community took steps towards fostering an environment of consent and support on campus.

The Consent Awareness and Sexual Education (CASE) club has grown dramatically over the past few years, receiving the Students’ Union Club of the Year award in 2015. In 2014, CASE introduced bystander intervention training for the staff at the Den which included training on how to identify potentially uncomfortable or dangerous scenarios and how to appropriately intervene.

U of C Campus Security added a disclaimer in 2014 to the bottom of security alerts noting that “a victim of a crime is not responsible for the actions of a perpetrator.” The Women’s Resource Centre unofficially broke a world record at this year’s Kickoff for the largest game of Red Light, Green Light. The purpose of the record attempt was to promote discussions of consent on campus.

All of these steps and movements work to create an environment not only where sexual assault survivors are comfortable coming forward, but where consent is a part of the conversation in the first place. These conversations are vital. Hopefully, they continue and manifest as action.

Believing is one step -— continuing the conversation is another. Let’s keep this momentum going.

And for the record, the Gauntlet believes you too.

Melanie WoodsGauntlet Editorial Board

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