BC government launches sexual violence prevention campaign to complement university efforts

Sexual violence is no stranger to university campuses, especially within the first eight weeks of the school year. To mitigate this, the provincial government recently launched a sexualized violence prevention campaign on all post-secondary campuses.

“Our government is responding to a call to action from students to ensure that our campuses in British Columbia are safer for everyone, regardless of gender expression, identity or sexual orientation,” said Melanie Mark, minister of advanced education, skills and training.

The campaign tells students in no uncertain terms that sex without consent is rape and never acceptable. These messages will meet young people where they are, on social media platforms, in popular bars and pubs, and around campuses.

The campaign tells students in no uncertain terms that sex without consent is rape and never acceptable.
The campaign tells students in no uncertain terms that sex without consent is rape and never acceptable. BC Gov News

This campaign comes on the tail of the 2017 requirement that all public post-secondary institutions have a standalone sexual violence policy, which at UBC is up for review come December, and a June $760,000 commitment to help universities create clear sexual violence policies and procedures.

Cristina Ilnitchi, AMS VP external affairs, told The Ubyssey that she attended Moving Forward Together, a forum by the provincial government bringing together support services from post-secondary campuses.

“The advocacy that students and student organizations and community services have been doing to support survivors have been absolutely critical in starting this work, and actually having it be recognized by the province as something that needs to be addressed,” said Ilnitchi.

Among others resources, the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) and Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) support staff and students on UBC’s campus.

Carol Naylor, SVPRO acting director, and Ariana Barer, the Vancouver office’s prevention educator, see the campaign as complementary to their own We Believe You Campaign that is in collaboration with the AMS and SASC.

The campaign is only slightly tweaked from their first campaign last year. They are now focusing on dispelling victim-blaming myths like going to a party, having never told anyone or the perpetrators being someone the survivor knows.

Julia Burnham, AMS VP academic & university affairs, told The Ubyssey that the AMS was able to collaborate with SASC and SVPRO on the We Believe You Campaign. SASC declined to comment for this story.

The We Believe You Campaign is featured on posters, keychains and sprawled in international student lounges and first year housing. According to Burnham, first-year and international students are the students they are especially hoping to target.

“[It] is quite similar to what the provincial campaign materials in nature are trying to talk about but that wasn't ever anything that was sort of brought up in those meetings as we were planning them over the summer,” said Burnham.

The provincial campaign was announced a week before its August 29 launch, well after SVPRO and the AMS were planning their own initiatives.

SVPRO has trained orientation leaders and is working on training for Academic Advisors who may be an unexpected first point of contact for survivors. SVPRO is also starting a student initiative fund for students to create their own events and awareness. The pilot program is expected to launch later this month.

Sexual violence campaigns are especially important during the first eight weeks of school, often referred to as the red zone, as upwards of 50 per cent of assaults occur during this time.

Policy 131, UBC’s standalone sexualized violence policy, was intended to make things better for survivors, but reports of sexual violence have actually increased since it was instituted. Barer thinks that this is less likely due to an increased number of attacks and more so because of a heightened awareness of what services are available to students.

“I think what we actually see is a big increase in people coming forward and seeking support resources and reporting at that time of year, because there are often such big pushes to let people know that those resources are available,” said Barer. “People come forward and let us know about recent assaults, but also historical assaults.”

When asked if she thinks these campaigns are enough, Ilnitchi told The Ubyssey, “There's a lot of work that needs to be done in sexualized violence, you know, especially in the context of post-secondary campuses, [which] has not been addressed really until now.

“And a lot of the work that's happening now, to be honest, is catch up.”