Building a caring and responsible community based on consent

By Therese Stecyk Posted: September 28, 2018 10:00 a.m.

Lynn Thera is the University of Regina’s coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response.
Lynn Thera is the University of Regina’s coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response. U of R Photography

“We need to change a culture that accepts sexual violence,” says Lynn Thera.

Educating people about consent and shattering myths about sexual violence is the first step in that process. Thera is the University’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response (SVPR) coordinator. Since embarking on the role this summer, she has focused on building educational programs around consent and partnerships across campus aimed at expediting that culture shift.  

Sexual violence is more common than most people think. As many as one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Close to 90 percent of victims know their offenders. Half of all sexual assaults experienced by university students occur on dates – many within the first few months of the school year.

“These are stats that need to change,” Thera says.

The message that “Consent is Everything” is on the posters, bookmarks, pamphlets, website, and other material being used by the SPVR coordinator across campus. The message focuses on five key points about consent: it must be enthusiastic, voluntary, mutual, communicated clearly and given when sober.

“By educating our campus community, raising awareness about consent, we are actively creating a community of caring in which everyone has responsibility,” says Thera. This work includes offering programs focused on prevention and education, such as Bringing in the Bystander Training. These workshops teach bystanders the skills necessary to identify the continuum of violence and intervene in a safe way.

Thera is also partnering with groups on campus such as URSU, the Women’s Centre, and URPride. Welcome Week, URSU and The Owl sponsored drink coasters promoting consent awareness and staff were trained about sexual violence awareness. Residence Services staff also took Bystander Training, which is available to any student or employee group, large or small.

“Partnerships are important on campus. We need everyone’s voice saying together, we’re going to change the environment on campus,” she notes.

Thera would like faculty members to consider having an in-class presentation, which can be customized for their needs. For example, students entering a business profession might be interested in a presentation focused on a business environment. She’s also setting up conversation groups on topics such as consent and sexual assault myths, rape culture, and healthy relationships.

“The more we talk about it, the more you know what to watch for and the more likely we are to stop it,” she says.

In addition to education, the SPVR coordinator role involves directly supporting anyone – students, faculty, and staff – who has experienced sexual violence, or is supporting someone who has.

No one needs to go through it alone, she says.

“The effects of sexual assault can be long lasting, often affecting quality of life and the University experience,” she says.

Thera emphasizes that victims do not have to make a sexual assault report in order to access University services. She is available to listen, accompany someone to appointments or to seek medical attention, provide referrals to both on- and off-campus resources, advocate for deferrals, extensions and/or other academic accommodations, and provide general information.

The approach taken is “trauma-informed” and focuses on the needs of survivors. Thera, who was at the YWCA prior to the University, working with women who have experienced extreme, complex trauma, wrote her master’s thesis on the topic.

She says that prior to 1980, the concept of trauma was applied mostly to the experience of veterans returning from combat; however, after 1980, researchers began to look at domestic violence and sexual violence through that lens and found commonalities in victims’ responses

Helping both survivors of sexual abuse – and those who support them – to recognize the signs of trauma is part of the education process.

A common reaction to sexual violence is for the survivor to blame themselves, feel confused, and/or struggle to remember details or specifics of the event. Conversely, when someone discloses a sexual assault to a friend or a colleague, the survivor may exhibit a range of emotions, from calm and unaffected to frantic, distraught, and anxious.

The SPVR coordinator offers “disclosure” training to all employees so that they understand what disclosure looks like and what to do when someone discloses that they have experienced sexual violence.

“The idea is that staff and faculty have the opportunity to learn what would happen if a student or colleague discloses to them,” she says, including what it looks like, where should they go, the policies and processes, and how she can help them through it.

The training is part of the University’s larger efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence. The University’s Task Force on the Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence, chaired by Dean of Nursing Dr. david Gregory, is in the process of focusing efforts to prevent sexual assault and violence, improving the University’s response, and ensuring that students, faculty and staff have a welcoming, safe place to learn, teach and work.

Four Campus Conversations have been held to gather input from the campus community about their ideas, concerns and experiences.

The Task Force will reflect on the information shared at these sessions as they revise and prepare a final product and report for President Vianne Timmons.

It’s all part of the process of shifting a culture and creating a caring and responsible community where everyone has a role.

 

More information:

https://www.uregina.ca/sexual-violence/index.html