Students discuss, march for sexual assault awareness

Dozens of people marched to raise awareness for sexual assault and took part in a panel on Friday as part of five sociology students’ community action project.

The group worked with and wrote a research paper on the Fredericton Sexual Assault Center last semester. This semester, they were assigned to help FSAC and make an impact on the community working within the organization’s cause. They decided to organize a march and panel concerning sexual assault on campus.

“[It] emphasizes what resources are available, so I think students will be a little less scared to ask for help,” said Megan Melanson, one of the students who organized the event.

Hecklers yelled “Get a real job!”at those marching off St. Thomas University’s campus.

Still, Melanson said she believes the panel will help students to become more informed and know what options they have. It will also help them feel more comfortable with the staff available to help victims.

“They get to see their faces and they know that’s the person I’d have to deal with if something were to happen to me.”

Panelists, including representatives and leaders from the student union, residences and sexual assault support services, discussed the definitions of sexual assault and the school’s response to a disclosure or complaint. They emphasized giving control back to survivors of sexual assault.

When discussing steps a survivor should take if they want to report their situation or simply need someone to talk to, talking to residence advisors was strongly suggested.

Olivier Hébert, residence co-ordinator of Harrington and sexual and gender diversity representative for next year’s students’ union, said the role of a residence advisor is to support, defend and advocate for the survivor. It’s important for students to know residence advisors are on their side.

“We are not judging them. We are not pushing them into anything they don’t want to do. We’re there to be there for them,” Hébert said.

However, it’s not exclusively survivors who may need help. Friends and acquaintances may need someone to talk to as well. Being aware of how to react in these situations was one of the key topics covered in the discussion.

Maggie Forsythe, the campus sexual assault support advocate, said there are three key things when it comes to supporting victims: “Be a good listener, start by believing … and the last thing is [giving them] choice.”

The panel also discussed the plans Jimy Beltran, vice-president student life-elect, has in mind for next year concerning sexual assault support and awareness.

Beltran said his plans include an awareness week, focus groups, gathering input and suggestions from students on how to better deal with the situation and working with FSAC to bring more workshops to the university to inform and enlighten students.

Student leaders and representatives said they hope to continue holding more open discussions on sexual assault awareness into next year and create a more open and safe space for all.

As Melanson, said, “We’re moving into a great direction to create change.”

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