By Jess Spindler | Photo Credit: Jenna Muirhead |
If you have experienced sexual violence, the first thing you need to know is that it is not your fault. Acts of sexual violence are the responsibility of the perpetrator alone, and you are never to blame.
The second thing to know is that you are not alone. You have the option of sharing your experience and accessing help.
But first, what is sexual violence, exactly? It’s defined as any sexual act – whether physical or psychological— that targets a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, that is done without the other person’s consent. This includes:
- Sexual assault (i.e. any kind of sexual touching done without consent);
- Sexual harassment (i.e. a pattern of unwelcome comment or conduct based on sex, gender or sexual orientation);
- Stalking or controlling behaviour (including cyberharassment or harassment by text or DM)
- Indecent exposure (i.e. deliberately act of exposing private parts of the body in an offensive manner, in a public space);
- Voyeurism (i.e. spying or filming someone engaged in sexual activity or doing something private such as showering) ; and
- Sexual exploitation (i.e. where a person who is in a relationship of trust or authority over a young person takes advantage of the young person sexually).
The new REES platform helps individuals who have experienced sexual violence complete a reporting form that captures all the key information about an incident through a secure online form. The user chooses what happens next: they can keep the report for their personal records and never share it, or they can decide to provide a copy to their educational institution or to the police.
The decision to report is a personal one. No one should feel pressured to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. But if you are thinking whether or not to report an incident you have experienced, here are some things you may want to consider.
1. Reporting means the matter can be addressed.
Students have the right to learn in an environment free from sexual violence in all its forms. In fact, by law, all colleges and universities in the province of Manitoba must have a policy that sets out the procedures in place to address incidents that are brought to their attention. Most other provinces have similar legislation.
When you report an incident of sexual violence committed by someone within the College community, the institution must take steps to address it by looking into the matter, supporting your safety, and taking appropriate corrective action to stop inappropriate behaviour and prevent future reoccurrences.
Something you should know is that many post-secondary policies, including the Red River College policy, include an “immunity clause” for drug and alcohol use. This means you will not be disciplined if your report contains an admission of things that would otherwise be a breach of campus policies. We want to reduce the barriers to reporting as much as possible, and we want to reinforce that sexual violence is never your fault.
2. Reporting may lead you to connect with supports you didn’t know existed.
Sexual violence is traumatic. Research shows that beyond any physical injuries, there can be serious impacts on longer term mental health and overall well-being. Sexual violence that occurs during post-secondary can have a significant impact on academic performance, due to feelings of depression, anger and lowered self-esteem that can result from such trauma.
Your post-secondary institution wants you to do well, and is here to support you.
Reporting can help you to connect with counselling or medical services, many of which are available on campus and free of charge to students. There may also be supports off-campus within the community that you can be referred to.
Safety measures, such as no-contact orders and Safe Walk supports, can be initiated, and there may be academic supports you can access to help you in managing your studies during a difficult period.
3. The information you share can help improve future policies, procedures and prevention initiatives.
The current North American data tells us that 1 in 5 female-identifying students experience sexual violence while attending post-secondary. That is a high number, but we also know that the real number is likely higher because sexual violence is significantly underreported. Statistics Canada has noted that more than 8 of every 10 sexual assaults in Canada are never reported to police.
Gathering more data about sexual violence on campus—in terms of who it impacts and where and how it happens— will allow institutions to better understand whether their responses are effective in the ways that matter. Using the REES tool allows you to share important anonymized data that informs sexual violence prevention and response work.
Jess Spindler is the Resource and Resolution Advisor at Red River College. She is responsible for responding to all concerns and complaints of discrimination, harassment and sexual violence raised by members of the College Community. You can reach her at email@example.com. You can also learn more about the supports available at RRC by visiting www.rrc.ca/nowrongdoor.