Sexual Assault Awareness Month report

Sexual Assault Prevention Video from UBC Okanagan Equity Office on Vimeo.

In this video, Lea Sebastianis, a director of SARA – Sexual Assault and Rape Awareness campaign, discusses the role of our own language in setting up and reinforcing systems of oppression that may ultimately lead to sexual violence.

SAAM Report by Andrea Johnson, Equity and Inclusion Office

Starting my practicum with the Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO) in mid- January meant that I was quickly immersed in the various activities surrounding Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) coordinated by the office on campus. It has grown from a one-week event in 2015, to a month long campaign this year.

SAAM puts the spotlight on an issue that, frankly, no one really talks about. I, myself, have heard “I don’t know anyone that has been sexually assaulted,” or “that doesn’t really happen here.” Yet, the reality is that close to 25% of female students and 6% of male students on campus are victims of sexual assault. This alarming data alone makes it an issue that can no longer be ignored. This is where SAAM comes in.

A variety of creative events, workshops, and lectures were offered in January exploring topics such as responding to a sexual assault disclosure, maintaining continuous and enthusiastic consent, and deconstructing myths about sexual assault. As a graduate-level social work student, I was eager to participate and dove in head first.

On January 20, the Sexual Assault and Rape Awareness (SARA) group gathered students in Fipke Centre to commemorate Denim Day with an art installation showcasing ten pairs of denim shorts painted with words like “stand up!” and “consent” hung on a clothesline to elicit further awareness.

After attending the Inclusive Language Workshop, hosted by the EIO on January 13, I felt both refreshed and dismayed. I learned that pop culture, be it porn or the film industry, sexist jokes, and behaviours like cat-calling, all contribute to a culture where violence against women is tolerated and in extreme cases encouraged. It gave me hope for change to witness a room of engaged participants all working to change the discourse as a watershed in preventing sexualized violence.

On January 19, I attended a combination workshop hosted by SARA and the EIO called “Let’s Get Consensual and Bystander Intervention Training.” We explored the idea that consent can be sexy and doesn’t have to be a ‘mood-killer’ but rather sets the stage for a healthy intimate relationship. For a three minute animated video on how asking for consent is like asking a friend if they want tea, click here. It’s a great watch.

Jenica Frisque, an educator from the Equity and Inclusion Office and Melissa Feddersen a nurse practitioner and project coordinator from Health & Wellness co-hosted “Responding to a Disclosure to their first-ever audience comprising mainly of staff from the Student Support Services. As the only student participant, I immediately felt the connection to my work in a helping profession and learned valuable strategies of how to respond to a sexual assault disclosure. It was uplifting to see the unified support that staff already provide to students in these circumstances, yet, disheartening that the occurrence of sexual assault incidences are all too common.

Visual Coordinator and Director of SARA, Varenka Kim reflected on her experiences at SAAM and shared a few highlights. “I really enjoyed working towards making SAAM a bigger, more impactful event and I hope to see it strengthen and become more widespread on campus for the following years. Each time I was approached while volunteering people shared such personal experiences that really made me want to create a big impact on the student population and create a safe and consensual campus.”

Even though SAAM has wrapped up for another year, the hard work continues, and we encourage everyone to join in the conversation and stand up against sexual assault.