SFU workshop discusses sexual violence

The Lunch ‘n’ Learn explored how to support victims of assault

This is a photo of two individuals sitting at a table. They appear to be confiding in each other.
PHOTO: Christina Morillo / Pexels

By: Natalie Cooke, News Writer

Content warning: mentions of sexual violence and harrassment.

SFU’s Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO) recently hosted a workshop to address matters relating to sexual violence. Topics included the various forms of sexual violence, responding to sexual violence, and the services provided by SFU. 

People can be impacted by sexual violence in various ways — including indirect impact such as having received a disclosure or witnessing sexual violence. The Lunch ‘n’ Learn event spread awareness and answered questions about sexual violence for the SFU community. 

The event was discussed in an interview with Belinda Karrsen, an educational specialist for the SVSPO. Karrsen said as a facilitator, she noticed the Lunch ‘n’ Learn event was highly successful, and the conversations were enlightening and supportive. She explained the SVSPO has “created a space where people feel like they can engage.” 

The SFU sexual violence misconduct and education policy (GP 44) defines sexual violence as: “A sexual act or an act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression that is committed, threatened, or attempted against a person without the person’s consent.” This kind of behaviour may include “but is not limited to: sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, stealthing, and the distribution of sexually explicit photographs or videos of a person without their consent.”

Sex & U defines consent as an agreement between parties that is “freely given. Consent cannot be given by someone who is intoxicated, unconscious, or otherwise considered incapable.” Consent can be withdrawn at any time. “No always means no, even if you or a partner initially agreed to sexual activity or sexual activity has already begun.”

Karrsen said it is important to be aware of sexual violence and prevention because “it is more widespread than some people think.” A 2019 report by Statistics Canada showed that 71% of post-secondary students attending Canadian schools have witnessed or experienced sexual violence. 

Karrsen said, “We can always deepen our awareness of the complexities and nuances of this topic.” She added the need to turn our awareness into action; when combating the systemic issue of sexual assault, “It is up to each person where they want to focus their efforts.” For example, you can get involved in advocacy and working with organizations such as the SFU Active Bystander Network or SFU Students for Consent Culture

Karrsen hopes people will continue to connect with the organization and other support networks after the workshop. According to Karrsen, the SVSPO emphasizes “the importance of offering a compassionate and non-judgemental response if someone does disclose an experience of sexual violence to us [ . . . ] and to respect their decisions.” She explained many people respond to a disclosure with advice and urgency to report an incident. However, it is important to allow the survivor to do what they want at that moment. 

Karrsen explained the importance of self care for anyone impacted by sexual violence. “Learning different ways to regulate your nervous system if you have experienced trauma is important because trauma can come to the surface unexpectedly in flashbacks.” She added, “When a person accesses support in some way, it can facilitate their healing and the process of healing.” Additionally, people need to find what works best for them. 

Karrsen told The Peak the SVSPO uses a “survivor centered approach,” where they “work with the assumption that the person that has been impacted by sexual violence knows what they need best.” Therefore, the SVSPO presents options for ways to move forward without judgement. 

The SVSPO offers “education and support services for people who have been impacted by sexual violence.” Such services include: access to health and counselling services, transportation to hospital or police, supporting someone who is reporting an incident, and connecting people to community-based services. 

To connect with the SVSPO, visit their website for more information. 

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