Sexual Violence Awareness Week emphasizes healing and support for survivors

Content warning: Mentions of sexual violence.

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) held its annual Sexual Violence Awareness week from Feb. 2 to Feb. 6. The event aimed to provide a safe space for healing and to and equip attendees with tools to better support survivors. The week featured a variety of workshops and information sessions hosted on Zoom, culminating with their “Fire with Water” art show on Saturday night. 

The week kicked off with a workshop, reserved specifically for survivors, that aimed to provide a safe atmosphere for discussion on trauma and experiences of sexual violence. Facilitated by Malek Yalaoui, a Montreal-based advocate and special projects manager at McGill, the workshop explored artistic self-expression and invited participants to share their experiences and feelings about sexual violence. 

Feb. 3’s “Know your Rights” workshop focussed on the various reporting channels for disclosing experiences of sexual violence available to McGill students. Hosted by SACOMSS special events coordinator and U3 Arts student Kirsten Vanderlinde, the event detailed other support that might be helpful for survivors, such as counseling or attending survivor support groups. SACOMSS also emphasized other available routes outside of formal reporting. 

We decided to host this workshop in hopes of clarifying the very complex and long policies that McGill has in place for reporting sexual violence as well as to help individuals understand a bit more about what could happen if they choose to report to the police,” Vanderlinde wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “We encourage survivors to explore all their options and choose what they feel is best for them as there are often many factors to consider when reporting instances of sexual violence.

During the a workshop “Supporting Survivors,” speakers dispelled several common myths about sexual violence and shared advice on how to best support survivors. Sara Ghandour, SACOMMS special events coordinator and U1 Medicine and Health Sciences student, underscored the necessity of having strong support systems, especially as survivors may field unresolved trauma when speaking about their personal experiences.

Unfortunately, for many of us, it is likely that at some point in our lives [or] a loved one will seek support after experiencing an instance of sexual violence,” wrote Ghandour in an email to the Tribune. “These situations can be incredibly stressful, uncomfortable, and intimidating for survivors as well as their supporters [.…] After all, when a loved one comes to us for support, it is only natural that we would want to do our very best to provide them with it and avoid causing any more harm.” 

During “Consent and Comfort in Romantic Relationships,” speakers discussed the impact of sexual violence within relationships. Ghandour detailed how to set healthy boundaries with partners and establish preventative measures in an email to the Tribune

“The workshop was intended to create an open discussion on what it means to be in a healthy, comfortable relationship, where consent is regularly maintained, partners respect one another and each others’ boundaries, and both parties feel safe,” Ghandour wrote. “The workshop aimed to broaden preconceived notions on what [it] means to have consent in a relationship and expand from the traditional discourses surrounding consent with one time partners that we often hear about.”

The presentation also discussed the importance of consent in long-term relationships, noting that its absence can lead to sexual coercion and violence. Kennedy Randall, U2 Arts and SACOMSS volunteer, went over different scenarios of consent in non-romantic situations and highlighted the importance of respecting the personal space and boundaries of others. 

“Boundaries are an integral aspect to consent, and [are] important in achieving comfort and consent in relationships,” Randall wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Setting boundaries is an important part of any relationship, not just a romantic one [….] Ultimately, boundaries are to protect ourselves and our well-being, and to promote accountability in our relationships.”

**For more information on reporting instances of sexual assault please refer to the Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (OSVRSE) or the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).

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