New committee to combat rape culture

St. Thomas University Students’ Union launched a committee with the goal of engaging students to combat sexual assault and rape culture on campus.

Committee co-chairs Amy Baldwin, a fourth-year student, and vice-president student life Jimy Beltran want to engage with students to destroy rape culture and sexual assault on campus.

Amy Baldwin and Jimy Beltran are co-chairs of the sexual assault prevention committee after they both ran on platforms of sexual assault awareness during last semester’s STUSU election. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“[Students] are the ones who hold up the culture and reinforce rape culture, and so if we can change some of the stigma and engage and talk about how they are holding up rape culture, it makes a big difference in how we can combat sexual assault in general on campus,” Baldwin said.

“The goal that we want to achieve is zero sexual assault, that’s the ultimate goal. Is that achievable? Probably not, but in a perfect world that’s what we want,” she said.

Over the summer, Baldwin and Beltran partnered with Maggie Forsythe, campus sexual assault support advocate, to help set up the committee. The committee held its first meeting on Sept. 18 with an equal gender divide. The committee is currently looking for 10 to 15 members to help facilitate events throughout the year, but so far 20 to 25 have shown interest in being part of it.

Both Baldwin and Beltran had sexual assault awareness as part of their platforms when they campaigned for vice-president student life in last semester’s election. They said they were motivated to create the committee for personal reasons.

“Members of my family have suffered — suffered really bad. Friends as well,” said Beltran.

“It’s interesting, when you come from a country in the global south, you have that expectation that countries in the developed world don’t have these issues,” said Beltran, who’s from Venezuela.

Baldwin agrees.

“In developed countries like Canada, why is this still an issue?” she said. “As an RA I had a lot of experience speaking with survivors of sexual assault and it shocked me how many people I talked to.”

She was even more surprised by the number of people who came to her after experiencing something that brought back painful memories from a previous sexual assault.

“It’s like, you weren’t even an adult and you had that happen to you,” she said.

“Rape culture isn’t just affecting women. Rape culture is affecting men. Rape culture is affecting an entire society.”

Beltran and Baldwin have several events in the works for first semester, including a theatre project set to take place in October, partnering with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre to provide training to students and fundraising. They are also planning a clothesline event, where students can write something related to sexual assault or rape culture on t-shirts and then hang them in the lower courtyard.

Both Beltran and Baldwin will be graduating this May and hope to see the committee continue in future years.

“I would love this committee to exist forever,” Beltran said, “We want to see it move forward every year.”

Take Back the Night

The committee also took part in Take Back the Night, an annual march against sexual violence, on Friday. The group made posters in James Dunn Hall before the march and brought approximately 50 students downtown to participate.

Second-year student Kyra Wilson, who attended the march, recently joined the committee and said she hopes it will bring more awareness to campus.

“I’m tired of my friends telling me they got raped,” said Wilson.

“I think making people more aware that this is a real problem and it’s not just a statistic [is what I hope to see the committee bring about].”

Second-years Chelsea Connell and Alison Larade also signed up to join the sexual assault committee on Friday at the Take Back the Night march.

“I think it’s important to stand up for things you believe in and sexual assault is a problem all over the world. It’s unfortunate that we still have to do this [referring to the march] to advocate for the people in our community who have been affected,” Connell said.

Larade said there’s still stigma around sexual assault and its’s not talked about enough.

“It’s really, really important that we have a community where people can talk about it and once we talk about it, we can see that there’s an actual problem and we can come up with different initiatives to solve the problem,” Larade said.

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STU’s plan to combat sexual assault

The university and the committee are working together to combat rape culture and sexual assault on campus.

In June, STU, the University of New Brunswick and New Brunswick Community College also signed an agreement pledging approximately $250,000 over three years to come up with a strategy to tackle the increased number of assaults on the three campuses.

“We’re so excited that the students are taking it on,” said Brock Richardson, director of student services and residence life.

“The understanding of what is sexual assault, why does it happen and where does it come from has changed and a lot of it’s linked to the culture,” he said. “If a lot of the changes that need to happen on campus are at that level of culture among students, then I think a lot of the change… is being lead by students, which is really great.”

—With files from Angela Bosse

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