The B.C. government recently launched a sexual violence and misconduct information campaign specifically aimed at post-secondary campuses. All 25 universities and colleges in B.C., including TRU, are involved in the campaign.
Unlike previous campaigns that have aimed to address sexual violence and misconduct, this campaign focuses on the critical period of the first few weeks of a new semester. According to the government, this is when two-thirds of sexual assaults on campus occur.
“Student life should never include any type of sexualized violence or misconduct. However, we know that roughly two-thirds of sexual assaults on campus occur during the first eight weeks of school,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training in a press release.
While there are a lot of reasons for why these first few weeks back are so critical, it really boils down to a few factors, says Meaghan Hagerty, TRU’s Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Manager.
“Everyone’s excited and everyone’s out partying more. A lot of sexualized violence happens within relationships as well or between you and someone you already know,” Hagerty said. “But I think it really comes from this being a new stage in people’s lives. There are unfortunately, some factors that make people more vulnerable at that age and stage as well, like trying to fit in or not knowing how to push back against those sorts of things.”
Statistically speaking, first and second-years are perhaps the most vulnerable. In a 2015 article by Stephen Cranney in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, The Relationship Between Sexual Victimization and Year in School in U.S. Colleges, the author found that students in their first two years are disproportionately affected by sexual violence compared to other students.
This doesn’t just have to do with alcohol and partying either, but the type of housing they are living in (on-campus versus off-campus) and a lack of proper transportation.
Since a single incident of sexual violence can have life-changing results for everyone involved, educating students in their first few weeks is key.
For their part, TRU has been putting up posters around campus, including in The Den. Yet the university is taking it one step further by partnering with other research universities in B.C. to bring students consistent messaging on the topic of sexual violence.
“We’ve been working with the other research universities in B.C. to bring consistent messaging to our campuses on some of the larger topic areas,” Hagerty said. “We now have a learning tool that students can access via Moodle or in-person workshops. So each one is a video and a debrief breakdown of the video. It’s on consent, healthy relationships, boundaries, being an active bystander and supporting a survivor.”
While these in-person and video workshops are no doubt a powerful tool, they aren’t mandatory. Yet Hagerty isn’t sure that mandatory education is the answer either.
“It is tough with mandatory education because if people aren’t willing to hear it then it can be less effective,” she said. “We’re going to incentivise it and there will be prizes attached to it. We are trying to make it as accessible as possible.”
While some students may not be willing to watch a video or join in on a workshop session, there are still other ways in which they can communally make TRU safer, says Hagerty.
“If you hear someone making a rape joke, say, ‘Hey man, that’s actually not that funny,’ and sort of educate themselves around sexual violence and what they can do,” she said. “Recognizing that it does happen a lot, so knowing some positive ways to respond if someone tells you, not that you have to be an expert. But if someone tells you, believe what they tell you and connect them to resources.”
Some of those resources include contacting TRU’s counselling department at 250-828-5023 or contacting an organization such as Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre (250-372-0179).