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Sexual Violence Awareness Month brings forth new consent workshop

By Sophia Lopez, May 10 2021—

May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month (SVAM) in Alberta, and to bring to light the importance of consent within our community, the University of Calgary, Bow Valley College (BVC) and Mount Royal University (MRU) collaborated to build a new workshop that focuses on creating communities of care. Rethinking Consent: Creating Communities of Care, is a two-part workshop that aims to promote the necessity of consent when forming all of our relationships, not just intimate ones. 

Carla Bertsch, UCalgary’s sexual violence support advocate, spoke with the Gauntlet on the new workshop she’s been working on and the collaboration UCalgary has had with the two other Calgary based universities.

“This is our third year working together as a collaborative on this month to bring awareness to all of our communities and the larger Calgary community,” said Bertsch.

Bertsch discussed how May was named SVAM by the provincial government just three years ago in 2018, and since then she, along with UCalgary, BVC and MRU, have been working to provide quality information to students on the importance of consent and helping to end sexual violence. 

“I just think it’s really important to take the opportunity during this month — throughout the year as well but especially this month — to help people understand, bring awareness around the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities, especially on campus,” she said.  

In collaboration with Kiara Mikita, educational development consultant at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at UCalgary, Bertsch was able to create a workshop that would tackle areas of sexual violence and consent education that haven’t been working well enough to decrease sexual violence in our communities. 

“In conversations with colleagues around Canada, I think what we recognized is that traditional consent training maybe wasn’t working or wasn’t enough. Sexual violence is one of the violent crimes in our community that hasn’t decreased over time. So we haven’t seen rates of violence around sexual violence decline in over 30 years,” Bertsch explained. “So, for me that really indicated that what we’re currently doing isn’t enough or isn’t working. I really wanted to put my head together on something around consent training that was innovative, that was different, that tapped into what I was seeing in my own work around maybe what was missing.”  

When asked what students and staff from all three post secondary institutions can expect from the new consent workshop, Bertsch expresses her reason behind how a focus on the legality of consent isn’t going to be a priority in the workshop discussions. 

“This workshop is kind of different in that we don’t have a large emphasis on legal obligations. What I find is that people understand what the law says about consent, so we really dig in to looking at relationships as a whole,” she said. “We want it to engage people in a conversation about healthy relationships individually and collectively.”

The new consent workshops will also touch on feelings surrounding consent which are often not discussed, such those regarding refusal. Bertsch wants to normalize these feelings. 

“These feelings are common, we all experience them, but when we don’t have a tool to process them in a positive way, often we see violence to self or others as an outcome,” Bertsch explained.

As a final message, Bertsch expressed her excitement for the new workshop, and highlighted the Dear Survivor campaign which is an opportunity for people to send in messages of hope and reliance to survivors this month. She hopes people will take something from the workshop, and that work can be done as a community to end sexual violence not just this month, but all year round.

“I’m really excited about what we’re trying to do, it’s really innovative in terms of what I’ve seen happening throughout the world. I’ve never seen anybody approach consent workshops this way, so I’m really hoping that it lands well and really offers people an opportunity to think about their behaviour and start to engage in these interactions differently,” said Bertsch 

“We’re also doing the Dear Survivor campaign again, we’ve been doing this for three years as well. I love this campaign so much, I think it’s such a great way to send messages of hope and compassion to people who have experienced sexual violence. Sexual violence is often so hidden behind secrecy and shame, that these conversations are really important to have and to be highlighted. Sexual Violence Awareness Month and the Dear Survivor campaign is an opportunity to flip the conversation from those messages of shame, to messages that offer support, love and compassion, which I know survivors don’t hear enough of,” she concluded.

The first workshop dates are on Monday’s May 10 and 17 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., and Wednesday’s May 12 and 19 from 6:00 p.m to 7:45 p.m. These will be available for students from all three post secondary institutions only. The workshop dates for staff members only from all three post secondary institutions are on Thursday’s May 13 and 20 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. 

For more details on Rethinking Consent: Creating Communities of Care and how to register for the workshop, click here. For more information on Sexual Violence Awareness Month in general, and other initiatives to take part in to show your support, visit #SVAM and the UCalgary website.

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