- Get Help
- Supporting Survivors
- Education & Prevention
- About Us
- Contact Us
- Leave Site Now
How We Can Contribute to Consent Culture Every Day
In discussions about sex and sexual violence, a common topic is the importance of consent. For some of us, we may feel like we already know the basics of a comfortable, consensual sexual experience, or say, “I’m not hooking up right now, so is this even relevant to me?” To which I say, “100% Yes!” Consent is essential to sex, but it’s also essential to many other daily activities, and is practiced any time we set and respect boundaries. It’s how we build healthy relationships with both ourselves and others- so here are a few ways we can take care of each other in a culture of consent.
Knowing It’s Not Just About Sex
Any time we touch other people, whether it is sexual or not, the rules of consent apply. When we hug, tickle, cuddle, or offer physical support to other people, we have to consider that the other person may not want to be touched, and that accepting physical contact on one instance doesn’t mean it will be desired in the future. Because we can’t make assumptions about what another person wants, the only way to know is to ask and to listen. For example, many of us have friends that LOVE hugs- and many of us have friends that don’t. For those of us that love physical affection, it may be tempting to immediately embrace someone you recognize, whether it’s a person you just met, a new friend, or a distant relative. However, it’s likely not everyone will want this affection- and when the situation arises, the best way to know is simply to ask. “Can I hug you??” is an approachable way both to greet someone and to identify boundaries.
Another key to respecting boundaries is remembering that they can change, and paying attention to body language. For example, your partner may normally love to cuddle, but if you’re in an argument where emotions are high, they may find it disrespectful to be touched, even if your intent is peaceful. Or, you and your partner or friends may find it playful to tickle each other, but also not like to be tickled in certain spots and not all the time. Even in a casual situation, if someone looks tense while you’re touching them, it’s important to check-in by asking “do you want me to avoid that spot?” or “do you want me to stop?”
Knowing It’s Not Just Physical
For every boundary we draw surrounding physical contact, there are many others we navigate in order to respect each other’s emotional space and personal autonomy. Here are a few examples:
- DON’T make decisions for another person or make assumptions on their behalf: “I have time off on this day, so I’m coming over!”
- DO make collaborative decisions: “I’m free on Monday, do you want to hang out?”
- DO ask before you post: “I think this picture of you looks great, is it okay if I post it on Instagram?”
- DON’T force a conversation or make other people’s boundaries about your feelings: “I’m angry that you won’t talk to me right now!”
- DO check-in: “do you have time to talk?” or “is it okay if i ask you about x later?” or “I don’t want to talk about this right now; I’d like to talk about it at this time.”
Knowing It’s Not Just Romantic Relationships
A culture of consent is necessary not only in close interpersonal relationships, but also in casual hangouts, in the workplace, and in the classroom. For example, in an age where smartphones and the internet make us feel like we must be constantly accessible, it’s important that we have a say in when we are available, and for what. A common boundary between work time and off time is to choose to only answer work emails during work hours, and not to respond to them outside of work. Another favourite boundary of mine is to put my phone on airplane mode when I’m focused on something else- I don’t want to be interrupted by incoming messages, and at the end of the day no one is entitled to have constant access to me!
In friendly situations, it’s important to avoid peer pressure and to not guilt others for drawing boundaries. Even if a friend initially agrees to something, their consent can always be withdrawn. This goes for:
- Drinking - it might be a wild night, but don’t pressure your friend into taking “just one more shot”
- Scary Movies - you might not find it scary at all or love to see others’ reactions, but no one has to watch something they find horrifying
- Declining Plans - if a friend is busy with school and doesn’t want to meet up, it’s not your right to try to change their mind!
Finally, it is essential we think about consent in the way we share space. Consensually sharing space means taking steps to avoid potentially harmful environmental conditions. In more official cases, this can take the form of making a space nut-free, scent-free, or banning other common allergens. On an individual level, this means committing to checking-in with the people around you, even if you don’t know them. For example, when carrying food or other products with common allergens while in close proximity to others, such as in the lecture hall or on the bus, it’s important to ask for your neighbours’ consent before you bust out a potentially harmful snack. Another example of this happened to me just last week, in a public meeting where someone asked for consent to light incense. Because I had the opportunity to refuse, the incense was not lit, and I was able to avoid both a bad headache and possibly missing out on the activity. You can’t know someone’s sensitivity by looking at them, so you have to ask! And that brings us to the heart of what consent is- simply an ongoing commitment to asking people what they need.
About the author: Hannah Babki is an undergraduate student in Linguistics, Psychology, and Counselling and Human Development at Simon Fraser University. She is a member of the Active Bystander Network through the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO) and is passionate about anti-oppression work.
Yes Means Yassss: Improving Consent Education Among Queer Men
I am often met with envy when explaining the concept of Grindr to acquaintances who are unfamiliar with the smartphone app. Grindr’s location-based, sex-driven functionality certainly sounds like quite an exciting prospect for the average sexually active undergraduate student and could be an empowering or promising option for folks. I can imagine that the ability to find no-strings-attached hookups with individuals in your general proximity may be quite appealing to the untrained, heterosexual eye. However, I typically leave conversations with Grindr newbies highly aware of the fact that I have omitted the multitude of negative experiences I have had while making use of the app.
I know I’m not exactly making the best case for Grindr. After all, the app has created unprecedented accessibility for MSM (men who have sex with men) seeking sexual relationships. Many individuals have used it in order to make friends and even seek out career opportunities. I commend the app for facilitating a new-found sense of sexual liberation for queer men and recognizing that it could be an empowering form of fostering connection. When shifting the discussion of Grindr towards consent discourse, however, my applause ends there.
My tumultuous relationship with Grindr largely stems from the constant unsolicited text and picture-based sexual advances and requests made by other users. It is certainly a normalized facet of the Grindr experience. Those who call out this behaviour typically do so from a place of lookism, sexism, and racism rampant in the gay community (see also: “No fats, no femmes, no Asians”. Whether one finds these images unsightly is a different matter entirely, but I think it speaks to a broader issue at play — consent education is seriously lacking within queer spaces.
This is certainly of no surprise. Canada has a dark and lengthy history of stigmatizing and criminalizing gay sex, and I imagine that addressing problematic aspects of sexual behavior in the gay community sits lower on the list of concerns when there is an ongoing fight to freely engage in sexual behavior in the first place. Project Marie would be a recent and notable example of this fight - officers disguised in non-uniformed clothes targeted a popular cruising spot (a space where MSM search for sexual partners) and arrested 76 men on grounds of indecent exposure or lewd acts. Quite frankly, I can’t picture a two-week sting, dozens of by-law infractions, and public protests occurring if these alleged “sex crimes” were performed by heterosexual individuals. It leaves a very important question: how does one navigate the complexities of saying “no” if they are a part of a community that continues to struggle for the ability and respect to say “yes” and just be free to engage in sexual activity in general?
LGBTQ+-designated commercial spaces are typically centered around nightlife entertainment, where drugs and alcohol are often present. A prime example would be a darkroom, which put simply is a room in a club or a bathhouse where it is completely dark and individuals have sex in it. These types of spaces, largely unheard of by the general heterosexual public, have been central to the sexual liberation and culture of the gay community. How does one navigate consent in such a space? Is it freely given upon entry? If you’re engaging in sex with one person and others join in, do they need to explicitly ask for permission? Due to potential influences of drugs and/or alcohol, what if you don’t even notice? Clearly consent can become muddled by numerous underlying factors, but discussion on the topic is required nonetheless for a positive sexual experience regardless of someone’s sexuality.
Despite some progress being made in same-sex/queer consent education in public school curricula, conservative administrations often fight to overturn it. Ontarian sexual health education recently rolled back to its former 1998 curriculum, which now fails to discuss consent entirely. This is a huge impact for queer folks who may not be in a position to disclose their identity with their parents or peers. While some community-based resources certainly exist, there are few social spaces where queer men can equip themselves with tools necessary for healthy sexual relationships.
Admittedly, I don’t have all the answers to the numerous questions I have asked and am speaking from my own lived experience and knowledge. By no means do I think we should do away with sexual spaces that fulfill the needs and desires of queer men. The ability to freely access these spaces is a right that countless queer people fought to attain. I just think that the activities occurring within them should be done so safely and with the freely given and ongoing consent of all individuals involved. Potential starting points to address challenges regarding consent within gay male relationships could include the normalization of ongoing consent communication in sexual spaces like dark rooms and bath houses. MSM are significantly more likely to use nonverbal behavior to indicate consent whether this behaviour perpetuates the lack of consent discourse amongst gay/bisexual men or is a symptom of it is speculative. Regardless, I don’t believe that normalization on consent can occur without educational tools necessary to facilitate the discussion. Progressive sexual health education that is inclusive of gay/bisexual relationships may not address the finer self-indulgent details of darkroom sex for instance, but could provide the resources necessary to address problematic consent behaviour within the gay community. I have experienced consent as a foundational aspect of sexual relationships within other communities, so why not this one?
About the Author: Tristan Raymond is a 2nd year transfer student from Ryerson University in Toronto and is currently majoring in Psychology and minoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at SFU. He has been a member of the Active Bystander Network since Fall 2019 and hopes to continue on as a member for the 2019-2020 year. He is particularly interested in learning how to incorporate an intersectional feminist lens into psychological research methodology.
Women Deliver Mobilization: A World and Relationships with Gender-Based Violence
“Silence is the enemy of consent.” - Staceyann Chin at Consent Culture Forum, 2015.
A powerful quote from Chin resonates the most with an institutional setting such as the university. A place where adolescence meets freedom, universities can play a significant role in educating its students on power and gender dynamics. Specifically, gendered violence in universities takes the form of sexual violence and harassment. Increasing rates of gender-based violence (GBV) on university campuses show how the emotional and physical safety of students is continually put at risk.
Statistics Canada (2014) reported that 41% of all sexual assaults happened to students in 2014. Sexual violence is one of the most common forms of GBV on campus and it includes unwanted sexual touching, sexual attacks and sexual activity where the victim was unable to consent (Statistics Canada, 2014). Over 80% of rapes happening on campuses are committed by a perpetrator who knows the victim (Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario, 2015). It is important to note that there is a high level of underreporting of sexual violence due to stigma, shame and fear of being further victimized during the legal process. International students face additional barriers to reporting due to an unfamiliar language and culture.
Sexual violence is made worse by the existing negative gender relations on campus. Male attitudes toward sexual violence have shown to be problematic. One Canadian survey showed that 60% of college aged males would commit sexual assault if they were never caught (Canadian Federation of Students, 2015). Furthermore, university-specific settings, such as fraternities harbour dangerous spaces and culture for women. Fraternity culture is commonly seen to be a hostile place where sexual domination, aggression and rape myths are learned and further perpetuated (Boswell & Spade, 1996). This can be seen in chants and banners with threatening messages toward women. The high use of alcohol and drugs in fraternities and sororities intensify the attitudes surrounding rape culture. These norms also extend to varsity athletic teams where masculinity is often equated with dominance. Without hesitation-- rape culture in universities is a real local issue.
But, also globally…
If sexual violence occurs in seemingly safe institutions such as universities, pivoting our lenses to the global community starts to highlight violence that goes further than sexual violence. In fact, sexual violence is only one form of gender-based violence (GBV) that has affected the lives of many self-identified women and girls as well as for members of LGBTQA2S+ communities.
Gender-based violence is violence “directed at an individual based on his or her [or their] biological sex or gender identity” (Women for Women International, 2019). GBV can occur publicly or privately and “includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, threates, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation”.
GBV is known to exist in various forms, including but not limited to, intimate partner violence (IPV), human trafficking and sex slavery, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), and child, early or forced marriages.
Globally, the statistics on such violence is alarming. Alarming, but yet one cannot help but ask if it has been normalized? In regions such as Africa and the Middle-East, conflict-driven zones put women and children at risk of gender-based violence. These regions also show the highest rates of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is yet another form of GBV, with at least 200 million girls that have undergone FGM in 30 countries (United Nations, 2018).
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is, however, the most common form of violence that people of various genders are affected by. A number of national studies indicate that 70% of women have experienced IPV in their lifetime, and we know that men, boys and transgender people are also affected by the same. For instance, in Canada, men are victims of one out of four cases of IPV (Vancouver Sun, 2019).
When we say GBV, it is important to recognize that , while it proportionally affects women, it is an issue that affects both heterosexual and non-heterosexual women, men, transgender and two-spirit people, as well as people of all ages. Statistics on various forms of GBV are inexhaustive, and GBV is an issue that many communities are battling against. It is important to remember that these numbers are lived realities for many, and the fight against GBV has to be ongoing and met with resilience.
Despite SFU’s efforts at creating a safe space, gender-based violence has occured and continues to happen on campus. In 2016, three separate sexual assault accusations within six months were aimed at one SFU student living in residence. In 2018, many students raised awareness on a Facebook page about an alleged serial sexual harasser on SFU’s Burnaby campus. Despite the high number of incidents reported with this harasser, only one known formal complaint was filed at the university.
The BC government introduced a bill requiring all post-secondary institutions to implement a sexual assault policy by May 2017. In response, SFU created a working group consisting of students, faculty and staff to create and implement their policy, Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Support (GP 44). Currently, SFU has the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO) which offers trauma-informed support, referrals and educational opportunities to the entire university community, including students, faculty and staff.. They strive to eliminate barriers to support for marginalized populations such as LGBTQ2S+, Indigenous people and people of color. The SVSPO also engages with the wider community by collaborating with other on and off campus organizations.
SFU students, staff and faculty are encouraged to seek support when they experience sexual violence regardless of when or where the incident(s) took place. The SVSPO has created tips on ways to respond to disclosures in a sensitive and trauma informed way and on their website you can watch a helpful video that highlights how someone can respond to a disclosure of sexual violence. For example, they encourage using reaffirming phrases such as “I believe you” and “It’s not your fault” and empathizing with survivors, respecting their space and honoring the trust a survivor has given by disclosing a traumatic event. Ultimately, the video teaches us how to support one another because we are all in this together.
Moreover, educational opportunities are also available from the SVSPO such as workshops on bystander interventions, responding to disclosures and practicing consent. These workshops offer practical skills on how to respond and intervene when hurtful and harmful behaviour arises and workshops can be tailored to the needs and roles of specific audiences. Participating in these workshops is a way everyone can act as an ally, stand by survivors and explore ways to make social change towards ending sexual violence. It is not entirely out of scope to state that it is our duty to equip ourselves with necessary tools to tackle sexual violence!
By increasing dialogue and learning to recognize the signs of violence and spaces where this campus is conducive to perpetuating GBV, we can work towards the common goal of eliminating GBV and creating an environment where we all are and feel safe.
An Opportunity to Dream
In partnership with SFU’s mobilization against gender-based violence, we want to see your vision of “A World and Relationships without Gender-Based Violence.” This Artivist Event is an opportunity for artists and/or activists at SFU to depict or write about a world when gendered or sexual violence does not exist! Your artwork will be used to create a legacy collage that will be displayed at the Cultural Night, at the Women Deliver Conference, on June 5th! Please find more details here for a chance to win a prize: bit.ly/sfuw
Self-care Tips for Survivors
From going to class, studying, working and socializing, we always forget the importance of taking care of ourselves both mentally and physically. Taking a break from everything can help refresh both your mind and body. This is especially important if you are going through trauma like sexual assault. There are times when we may need some extra support and love and honestly- it really is okay to ask for it. Below are some helpful self-care tips that can help lift you up.
1. Find support
When going through tough times, it is important to find the right people that can help support and guide you. Talking to a professional support worker or counsellor about your situation can be a good way to let how you are feeling out, whilst keeping it private. Also, surrounding yourself by loved ones can create a supportive environment. Feeling all the love and care can ease your mind into knowing that you’re not alone. You can even find support groups with other people that have had similar experiences and can relate.
2. Treat yourself
Every few weeks it is important to do something for yourself, this can be anything from going shopping to even taking a bath. We all need a little treat and down time to ourselves. This gives us little joys that can distract us from all our thoughts.
3. Make a plan
Whenever you find yourself in hectic times, it is useful to plan everything out so that you don’t find yourself in very stressful situations at any given time. This helps to ease your mind and create a structured schedule that tells you what you need to get done and when.
4. Find an outlet
There are many different ways to express your emotions, this can be done through writing, drawing, painting or even talking. These methods can help to let everything that has been built up inside of you out. You just need to find your own creative way of expressing yourself.
5. Walking away
There are times when you may be in a situation that triggers your past history. In cases like these it is completely okay to say no and walk away from this situation. It doesn’t matter if you cannot talk about it or express how you feel to the other person. You can just simply leave and take care of yourself.
6. Physical care
Your body is constantly working to help you function and it is vital to make sure that you give it the right nutrients to do so. Making sure that you eat properly and consistently gives you energy and will also strengthen your mental health. Lastly, physical exercise can keep both your mind and body in shape. It can be used as a getaway to clear your mind and give it a break from all your thoughts.
At the end of the day, you are your own priority and the most important person in your life. Taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for your own happiness and future. It may not be easy at times or may not seem like a necessity, but your own well-being truly does matter. Especially when you are healing.
About the author: My name is Riya Sakhrani. I am a second-year student pursuing International Studies. I am member of the Active Bystander Network. After growing up in India, I have seen how women have been treated and I believe in gender equality and that all women should have the right to speak up.
Year in Review: Shining the Spotlight on Two Engaged ABN Members
The Active Bystander Network (ABN) is a part of the SVSPO, a student group that works towards addressing all forms of sexual violence at SFU and promoting a greater understanding of awareness of the issue. The ABN provide outreach initiatives, events and workshops to increase student awareness and understanding of sexual violence. I want to take a moment to shine a spotlight on what the ABN does, and two individuals who have spent a great amount of time and energy on making the program a success this year.
Meet the ABN
Sukhleen is a 4th year Criminology and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Study joint major student, and she got involved with ABN because she believed that it was a “great student-based organization that would enable her to educate the SFU community about very important issues”. She has been involved with ABN since September 2017.
Jennifer is a 3rd year Psychology student and she got involved with ABN because she was “passionate about sexual violence work” because she has friends who have been impacted by sexual violence. She has been involved with ABN for 2 years.
What does the ABN do?
Sukhleen has helped with many events and initiatives over the last year. She helped create online modules that will be available for students and faculty. In addition to this, she helped with various outreach duties. In carrying out her tabling duties, she would often be interacting with students and staff in a variety of manners – whether that be simple engagement, playing games relating to consent and sexual assault/prevention and awareness, or answering questions. Sukhleen also presented a workshop for fraternities and sororities on the SFU campus.
Jennifer has also helped out with tabling. Recently, she has been working with another ABN member on ways to assess workshops that have been done by the SVSPO/ABN members in order to get feedback from those who have attended.
One of Sukhleen’s favorite moments with the ABN over the past year was the workshop she hosted. Having the opportunity to educate others, as well as learning from them, is something she is passionate about.
One of Jennifer’s favorite things she did in the past year with ABN was tabling. She stated that despite not having contact with a lot of people during tabling duties, she felt that she was able to make an impact with the individuals that she did come into contact with.
Sukhleen’s favorite ABN memory pertains to a workshop that she was able to experience. She stated that she believes it is always great to learn about different perspectives and to be able to apply new knowledge to the work she does as an ABN member.
When asked what her favorite ABN memory was, Jennifer’s expressed her appreciation for ABN team meetings. She always enjoyed seeing the ABN members and catching up. Before she joined ABN, she didn’t know many people at SFU. Now, she feels that ABN is her family.
Sukhleen learned that everyone learns differently, and at varying points in time. She hopes to help those that are learning along the way and to make the process as safe and comfortable as possible for them. She also gained facilitation skills that she will be able to use going forward for presentations, workshops, and general public speaking.
Jennifer has had a positive experience learning how to effectively respond to disclosures. She feels that this is an important skill, and she feels confident in her abilities to do her duties as a result.
Sukhleen shares that it is important to meet people where they stand. She reiterated that she believes people learn at different points in their life, and instead of dismissing them for their lack of knowledge on a certain topic, to try to understand them and to do what you can to help them in their unique learning process.
Jennifer believes that an individual should not be afraid to share his/her ideas. She states that everyone involved is just as passionate as you are about sexual violence work; your ideas will be well received by others.
When asked about her summer plans, Sukhleen said she will be taking four courses, working, and balancing two volunteering gigs. At the end of August, she hopes to travel to New York City.
Jennifer is travelling to Mexico, Whistler, and Kelowna. She hopes to learn how to swim this Summer.
The ABN is a great way to meet new people and learn new skills. You could be a part of the ABN too and work alongside people like Sukhleen and Jenn to create a culture of consent, care and respect at SFU. Learn more about how you can get involved.
What does gender equality look like in 2019?
March 8th is International Women’s Day, this year bringing with it yet another theme for the year: think equal, build smart, innovate for change. As you can guess from the theme, this year is about considering equality and using technology and innovation to make the world a better place for women, especially when it comes to access to public services, social protection systems and sustainable infrastructure. Yet, it is 2019 and we are nowhere near achieving gender equality. In December 2018, the Global Gender Gap Report concluded that there is still about a 32% global gender gap to close. This report considers four factors: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, and we still need to work hard to achieve equality in these areas within a westernized society.
It is great to have a global report about gender inequality for those who do not believe it still exists (yes folks- many people still don’t believe it). Gender inequality is still so prevalent that we can see it all around us, we really don’t have to look that hard. One of the most recent examples is the Gillette advertisement discussing toxic masculinity and inviting men to rethink their actions in regards to supporting women. This ad (whilst quite heteronormative) highlighted the need for gender equality, yet many men who watched the advert protested against it through online social media campaigns. For example, Piers Morgan, an English journalist and television presenter of Britain’s Got Talent Show, tweeted:
“I've used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity. Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men.”
Another great example can be seen in the recent Nike ad in which Serena Williams highlights women’s leadership and badass-ness has been labelled as ‘craziness’, and she asks women to embrace their ‘craziness’ and show people around them what they are capable of. Serena Williams who is a record breaker, African-American tennis player, has personally faced many challenges in her career due to racial discrimination. In one of her matches she was fined $17,000 (£13,000) for opposing the umpire’s judgement. The Women’s Tennis Association later labelled her punishment as ‘sexist’, which also brought out the racial stereotypes of the ‘angry black woman’. Both of these adverts along with other campaigns such as the #MeToo movement, highlight that our progress towards achieving gender equality is very slow. It seems that the progress of closing the gender equality gap is so slow that every little achievement towards equality makes us excited when really, we should be examining the root causes of why gender inequality still exists.
The question then becomes, what can we do to speed up the process and achieve gender equality around us in the western society that we live in? To begin, as the theme for this year suggests, it is a great idea to take a look at ourselves and ask whether our actions and thoughts are sexist and discriminatory, think about our privileges and the fact that many people around us do not have the same opportunities. Participate in events that are informative and educational to learn about how to help achieve gender equality in your society. It is also crucial to remember that International Women’s Day is not just about cisgender women or white women. International Women’s Day is for all self-identified women including Trans, queer, non-binary and intersex women, so when trying to make the world a better place for women, don’t just try to make it better for cis women otherwise inequality is simply reproduced.
Most importantly, be mindful about the different experiences of people around us and keep in mind the cultural differences that can work as additional barriers for racialized and marginalized groups. It is also crucial to remember that Indigenous women face high rates of discrimination and violence in Canada and yet their voices are often erased in the fight for equality. 60% of women with disabilities face some form of form of violence in their lives and are often othered within society.
Lastly, you can help achieve gender equality by being an active bystander. When you hear someone make a sexist comment or joke, don’t stay quiet if you can. If your friends objectify women and use vulgar language, don’t just sit quiet or even worse join them to avoid the conversation of explaining to them why what they’re doing is wrong. You can update your knowledge about women’s issues, LGBTQA+ issues, racial issues, etc. If you are capable, do something to help even if it is as small as donating to an organization with the aim of reducing gender inequality. Hopefully, when the next International Women’s Day arrives, UN Women will publish a report that there is some progress, and hopefully if everyone contributes to a community of respect and care, we can see real change in future generations. Happy International Women’s Day to all of the amazing women, femmes and non-binary folks at SFU striving to make this campus a more equitable and safer community.
About the Author: My name is Delaram Hoorfar. I am a fourth year Gender, Sexuality and Women Studies major and Political Science Minor. I am very passionate about gender equality as I have faced discrimination all my life, being a Persian woman. My ultimate goal is to build a support system in the Middle-East, for people who have faced any kind of sexual violence as the challenges Middle-Eastern women face are different than the rest of the world.
Everyone Deserves Healthy Relationships-But What Do They Look Like?
From the online content we consume watching television or movies, to the information overheard from friends and family, relationships and dating can seem like a confusing topic. What makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy? Why is it so important to talk about as we think about our dating lives?
Relationships can take on multiple forms and don’t need to be romantic or sexual. Healthy relationships, whether they are between partners, friends, or family help us develop general well-being and a sense of belonging. Navigating through these relationships however, can often be tricky. For many students, university or college may be the first time you will be sexually active or engaging in an intimate relationship. Much of our information about relationships usually comes from talking to our friends and family or from the media we consume as I mentioned, but this isn’t always the most helpful.
We tend to idolize what we see on tv. For example, although many of us grew up “shipping” Chuck and Blair from Gossip Girl, we often ignored the fact that both characters were emotionally controlling and possessive. Another no so great example of a relationship includes that of Anastasia and Christian in 50 Shades of Grey. This one-sided relationship shows us how problematic jealousy and unequal power dynamics can be. Examples such as these give us a distorted outlook of how a relationship should be, as they recharacterize abusive behaviors as “love.” It’s impossible to follow an exact rulebook when it comes to healthy relationships because they are all unique. However, there are a few key things that work to create a culture of respect, consent and open communication that can make a relationship enjoyable for everyone involved!
Navigating relationships is not easy, but a clear line of communication is key. In many instances it’s easier to hide your feelings instead of expressing what you’re thinking - we have all been there. Be sure to communicate your needs openly and make sure you’re honest with what you are communicating about. On the other hand, it is also important for you to be an active listener, free of judgement to be open minded to your partner(s) needs. This is a component often missed when talking about communication but is as equally as important. Communicating over a text message might seem like a good idea at the time, but it’s often hard to be clear with what you are feeling. Think about HOW you are communicating-emoji’s aren’t always going to get your message across how you hope.
To engage in positive communication, try to:
- Talk face to face
- Use “I” statements to communicate your feelings instead of using “you” which can come across as attacking or defensive. For example, “I feel unhappy because we haven’t been spending much time together” not “you haven’t been spending time with me lately”
- Give your partner(s) your full attention; face them and make eye contact, and don’t text or be on your phone
Creating boundaries is an important way to ensure your relationship is healthy. Boundaries are rules and limits that determine our level of comfort with something. They protect us from emotional and physical harm and are extremely important in any relationship. Think about what you are comfortable with and make this very clear to those close to you. Understand that everyone is different and may have different needs and wants. Each person’s values, feeling and needs should be treated equally and without any resentment. It may seem awkward to communicate these boundaries but it’s important to ensure you are creating a safe and comfortable environment for yourself and your partner(s).
An important part of setting boundaries in a relationship is respecting these boundaries and practicing consent. Do not push or coerce someone when it comes to engaging in sexual activities with your partner(s). Even if you were in the middle of something, all boundaries need to be respected, no matter how big or small they are. Consent is required every time you engage in sexual activity and can be withdrawn at any stage-people change their mind- and that’s ok! Consent, however, is not only important when it comes to engaging in sexual activity but should be practiced in everyday situations as well. This includes asking for permission before hugging, holding hands or posting pictures of each other online.
Relationships that aren’t healthy often involve control, fear and a lack of respect for boundaries. Unhealthy relationships are sometimes hard to spot and aren’t as clear cut as it may seem. When thinking about the idea of abuse, we often relate it back to physical violence, but as mentioned, harmful relationships are not limited to this type of violence. A few examples that are found in unhealthy relationships include:
- Boundaries not being respected
- Not practicing good consent
- Isolation from friends and family
- Not taking responsibility for their actions
- Verbal put downs, criticisms, name-calling
- Sexual violence
All relationships go through periods of stress and difficulty; however, a relationship should not fill you with a sense of fear or dread. Positive relationships should make you feel energized, uplifted and supported. Your friends, family or partner(s) should support and respect your needs to create an environment free of judgement or stress. Remember - relationships should be fun! The Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office is a great resource for more information on healthy relationships and is a safe space where you can share you experiences without any judgment. Additionally, SFU Health and Counselling Services can provide individuals with further information on sexual health and counselling.
About the author: Jasleen Bains is an undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University, pursuing an International Studies major and Communications minor. She is a member of the Active Bystander Network through the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO). She has an interest in learning about intersectional feminist theory, ethnic media and identity politics.
Let's Talk: Safer Partying
This blog post has been tough for me to write. First I started off by trying to think of some tips that wouldn’t have students closing the tab and thinking, “thanks but I already know to drink water while drinking” but I got stuck shortly after coming up with tip #1: drink water. To tell the truth talking about safe(r) partying , it can be hard. I don’t want to be that person telling you not to drink too much because, well, I’ve been there and done that and I understand that that advice isn’t always what you want or need to hear.
I also don’t want to sound like I’m suggesting anyone go out and have a weekend that would put Leonardo DiCaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street to shame because A) I enjoy my job and B) that’s a truly terrible idea. And finally I don’t want to offer any blasé tips like “cover your drink and don’t go out alone” because it’s loaded with victim blaming and just isn’t helpful. But I do want SFU students to have tips and advice that might seem like common sense (drinking water is actually 10/10 advice so it’s staying in) but that are also based in harm reduction and anti-violence practices so that nights out can stay safe AND fun.
Practicing Harm Reduction
Harm reduction is a word that’s cropping up in the media quite a bit lately. It makes sense, considering BC and parts of North America are facing a severe opioid crisis and harm reduction is an excellent tool in reducing overdose deaths. But harm reduction can also be applied to general safety practices that university students can use when going out. After all, harm reduction is at it’s core about reducing potential negative outcomes that may be experienced. It involves meeting people where they are at and has an implicit understanding that folks will continue to do behaviours safely or unsafely (so you may as well make it as safe as possible!). So how can you practice harm reduction strategies at your next party?
- Eating a carb heavy meal before drinking
- Pacing drinks with water
- Avoiding drinking games where large amounts of alcohol is consumed quickly. I know they’re fun but maybe next pong tourney you put water in the cups?
- Carrying safer sex supplies for your friends and yourself and remember that practicing safer sex doesn’t just mean remembering to use a condom. You need to ask for consent and respect the answer.
- Don’t let friends use alone/don’t use alone
- Carry Naloxone and learn how to administer it
- Know how to get home safely (cab numbers, designated driver etc).
- Watch out for each other!
Being an Active Bystander
Even if you’re practicing harm reduction and being as safe as possible sometimes things still get out of hand (and it’s not your fault when they do). That’s where being an Active Bystander comes into play because it truly does take all of us to create safe(r) spaces and to foster a culture of care and consent within our communities. So what exactly is an Active Bystander An Active Bystander is someone who trusts their gut instincts when something is wrong and then acts on it. That person being harassed on the train? Maybe ask them for the time or pretend to have taken HSCI 160 with them until the harasser goes away. Is your drunk friend getting pressured into a cab by someone they just met at a party? Maybe you discretely inform security or cause a distraction so you can get them to a safe(r) place. Someone at the beer pong table cracks a joke about how first years are the easiest to get into bed? Shut it down by telling them that jokes about coercing someone into sexual activity promotes sexual violence, and that it isn’t funny or welcome at the party.
The point is, being an Active Bystander means that if you see something, you do something. Even if you’re not sure exactly what do, if it’s your place or don’t want to embarrass yourself. I get it, trust me I do, you don’t want to mess up and intervene in a situation that really isn’t a situation. But how do you know? And intervening can have life altering impacts for the people involved so it’s worth the 5 seconds of embarrassment if you did get it wrong and most folks will be grateful that you were thinking about their safety and taking it seriously.
One final point about being an Active Bystander. Your safety and the safety of others is the number one priority. You don’t need to be a super hero and directly intervene. There are lots of other ways to be an Active Bystander that are just as effective and will fit what feels right for you and for others. For example, it might be safe for me to call the police because I’m white, cis-gendered and middle class but that’s not the same reality for everyone around me. Similarly, I might not feel safe directly confronting an unknown man but I can go to the venue staff or ask one of my friends to intervene for me. Part of being an Active Bystander means being an active ally and using your privilege as well as thinking about the safety and intersecting identities of everyone involved. Which is what a good superhero should do anyways, you got this.
About the author : Caitlin is a 4th year International Studies major completing her final co-op term with the SVSPO. In her position as an Education Program Assistant, she has enjoyed providing sexual violence education training on campus and is proud to be part of creating a culture of care at SFU. Caitlin is a passionate feminist, volunteer and enjoys travelling when not in school
Working Towards a Culture of Care and Support Within Your Community
As we embark on a new year bright-eyed and eager to get rolling on our resolutions, we may not even know where to begin. Although our minds may be spinning with goals of self-improvement, we can alternatively channel this energy into our own community and spark change at an even greater level.
As university students, we are confronted with various situations which can expose us to and put us at risk of sexual violence, an issue seen in many colleges and universities- including our own. Sexual violence is perpetuated through societal and cultural norms, thus demanding a need for community-based solutions. While it may seem unclear or daunting to involve oneself in preventing or responding to sexual violence, there are numerous ways in which we can venture to create what’s called a culture of care or a ‘community of responsibility’.
By choosing to become a part of a community of responsibility, we agree to look out for one another and provide support, in whatever form that may take. As this expands and takes form, like-minded individuals can band together and share in creating a safer environment. We can all play an active role in eliminating potentially unsafe situations by educating ourselves and others as well as providing support to those who have been impacted.
On this note, you may be wondering what action would look like when responding to a disclosure of sexual violence. While no one route or approach exists due to the diverse nature of sexual violence and how it impacts people differently, the following tips and approaches can help assist and empower the person who has chosen to tell you their story.
At the SVSPO we use the term survivor to name someone who has experienced sexual violence, but it is important to note that people may choose to use the term victim, or no term at all. And that is the choice of the person who has experienced sexual violence. Oftentimes, survivors may feel isolated and disconnected from others, thus requiring the need to bring ourselves to see the situation from their own eyes to relate on a deeper level. An exercise which you may or may not be familiar with is active listening, wherein we are fully present and engaged in trying to understand what is being communicated to us, rather than simply hearing what is being said. Active listening looks something like this:
Take a seat back for a while and give the person as much time as they need to share. By listening intently and conveying to the person that they have your attention you can establish a sense of trust. This is incredibly valuable when interacting with a survivor of sexual violence as their ability to trust others may have been diminished as a result of their experience. Try to listen from their perspective and do not press for further details beyond their comfort level.
Check Your Biases
The subject of sexual violence is often misunderstood and misconstrued due to the ways in which our society continues to perpetuate rape culture. We are constantly exposed to ideas and attitudes which normalize or trivialize sexual violence, thus contributing to biases we may develop unknowingly. A common error that can lead to broken communication is allowing our own biases and opinions to skew our interpretation of what we are being told. Conscious self-reflection is required in order to communicate openly and without judgment. This is of utmost importance when faced with a disclosure of sexual violence as it is a highly sensitive matter which requires a compassionate response.
Reflect with Empathy
After having heard their story the best response is that which most reflects what they conveyed to you in your own words. A particularly effective response ties in a descriptor which adequately matches the tone and emotion the person is communicating to you with. For instance, a reflective statement may look something like this: “I can hear how devastating this may have been for you, especially after having trusted them so much”. Simple empathic responses can also hold a great deal of power, examples of this could be: “Thank you so much for sharing this with me” or “I can’t even imagine what that was like for you but I am so glad you tole me.” If a survivor chooses to share their experience with you, express your appreciation for their confidence in you as a support and acknowledge their strength for having come forward.
Use Open-Ended Questions
It is important not to press survivors for details. You do not need to know more they want to share. If you do ask questions to access what they might need and how you can support them, ask open-ended questions. This could include “can you help me understand better how I can help you” to iron out details which may need clarifying.
It is often incredibly difficult for a survivor to confide in someone. This is why it is so important to let them know that they have worth, that they deserve to be heard and that whatever they feel is entirely valid as a result of their experience. Validate however they are feeling and also whatever they are doing to cope with what they have experienced- it is not your place to judge them.
Provide Further Resources
After an individual has confided in you the most empowering approach is to ask the survivor what they feel most comfortable with in regard to seeking help. Depending on their response, you can choose to provide further support in the form of accompaniment or to connect them with campus resources. The Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office is a great place to start where you can receive free and confidential support, advice, and safety planning. Remember that it is a survivor’s personal decision as to whether or not they wish to take further action and that the most supportive thing you can do is empower them by equipping them with appropriate resources, either on or off campus.
By choosing to engage as an active listener and provide support you have already taken on a significant role in working towards creating a culture of care which can be stressful and overwhelming in its own way. Ensure that you have someone to de-compress with whether it be in the form of peers, family, professional or community support. The SVSPO is also a resource which is there for you to de-brief with and consult after having received a disclosure confidentially. Letting someone know that you have been helping a survivor of sexual violence can be relieving and allow for you to acknowledge some of your own discomforts, triggers and barriers to communication which may have come up through this experience. We all tend to ourselves in very different ways and restoring ourselves back to a healthy balance is important as wel
Taking on an active role in working towards developing a shared ethos of community responsibility, care and support is a rewarding experience which just may be one of the ways you can start the year off in a meaningful way.
About the author: Sarah Negrin is an undergraduate student in the Department of Criminology and is a member of the Active Bystander Network through the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO). Her work as a crisis-line call-taker has equipped her with first-hand knowledge and experience of existing issues and societal inequities across the Lower Mainland.
Dear SFU faculty: It's on all of us to respond to sexual violence
SVSPO Educator Ashley Bentley sat down with Stuart Poyntz, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology to talk about why faculty members should get involved in Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) at SFU, and how faculty members can all play a role in responding to and preventing sexual violence on campus.
Ashley: Stuart, thank you for sitting down with me. So-why do you think SFU faculty members should join the conversation for SAAM?
Stuart: Faculty members are key to mobilizing student interest and concern. We know when students engage with faculty in their classes and programs, that their learning can fundamentally change. If faculty take the lead, students and staff will follow. They will pay attention and engage. For faculty members at SFU what this requires is an act of courage, to put ourselves forward, to be identifiable faces in support of SAAM and sexual violence prevention at SFU. Otherwise this issue risks sliding under the radar. Students have a lot to pay attention to within a campus environment and so our role is to raise the profile of this issue and show them it matters fundamentally to everyone’s health, safety and wellbeing.
Ashley: As an Associate Dean you must witness a lot. Can you tell us about your understanding of how sexual violence impacts campus communities?
Stuart: I speak as an Associate Dean and as a member of the academic community for 12 years at SFU when I say that sexual violence has huge potential to fly under the radar. There is not enough attention to the issue, which can be painful and brutal, and often difficult to confront. We need leadership- department chairs, faculty members and grad students to raise the profile of this issue and engage with a set of practices to challenge the way sexual harassment is reproduced within the academy. It means working closely with the resources on campus like the SVSPO in order to learn how to do this. Sexual violence is about power and the exploitation of others and it is often painfully difficult to talk about for survivors and others. We know sexual violence continues to be part of our lives here and that actions of faculty leaders can encourage people to speak about their experiences and the experiences of others that they have witnessed. To do this we need to confront the power dynamics of the academy which requires people to stand up, to address particular events that happen at SFU and to change the culture.
Ashley: Why do you think that some faculty members don’t engage in this topic?
Stuart: It’s complicated. There is often a lot of unseen work that takes place by faculty behind the scenes, it is not always explicit but there is work that some faculty are doing to respond to this issue. Only recently have universities made an explicit effort to advance sexual violence awareness in a more concerted and less crisis orientated way. Ideally faculty members can begin to envision raising awareness and discussing this issue as a part of everyday activity in academia. Perhaps people do not feel comfortable or they are unwilling to acknowledge sexual violence is an issue because they are afraid to talk about it. Often privacy or position within the academy can have an impact on that. If sexual violence is acknowledged, it means it exists, and can be caused by people in positions of power. It involves questioning relationships with colleagues- which is complicated. But we can’t turn our backs to the ways in which power is exercised within a university. It is an embarrassment that this is still a rampant issue within the academy today, we need more pro-active leadership to challenge and confront how sexual violence operates on campus, and we need to make those changes now.
Gender and equality plays a huge part of why people do not engage in the topic. Often male faculty members will feel it’s not their place of action, yet the obligation to act should be amongst all of us. Gender inequalities among faculty can imply this is an issue for female leadership only, yet the obligation should be on all of us on campus to confront sexual violence and assist those who have been impacted.
Ashley: What can faculty members do to better support students who experience sexual violence?
Stuart: Faculty members need to inform themselves about the resources available to support those who have experienced sexual violence. They need to develop a plan of steps to take to support those impacted and make sure all faculty in that department are also aware. Speaking up in classes and other public forums to acknowledge the issue is also key to reducing risk and preventing the reproduction of sexual violence on campus. There are so many modes of engagement to talk to students and staff and fellow faculty and the SVSPO is a resource to support faculty in doing that through education and awareness. It is very important that we all lead by example in the way our language and daily interactions establish conditions of safety and confidence amongst our students. Language matters in fostering a culture of care where students can come forward about their experiences.
Ashley: How can faculty members and departments foster a culture of care?
Stuart: Things we can do is make publicly evident in department meetings, with posters on our office doors and in conversations that we are aware of the problem of sexual violence. It means sharing awareness campaigns and information about resources available. Making our learning spaces explicit displays of support for sexual violence prevention is really an important way of changing cultures and calling out that this type of conduct is never acceptable. Creating a culture of care also means addressing the use of power in a way that takes advantage of vulnerability of those we work with, particularly staff and students.
It has to be acknowledged that in 2019, it is a shock that in academic institutions that the problem of sexual violence remains ever present in our midst. Power continues to reproduce sexual violence, and so this problem remains. It is all of our responsibility to lead in the struggle to change how these kinds of threats and actions are ever present, and to change the culture where survivors are believed and that the root causes of sexual violence are addressed.
More information about Stuart Poyntz can be found here.
Isn’t that kind of…unsexy?
Something that I hear quite frequently from my friends, people online on social media (especially dating apps) and even members of my own family is “well I don’t know isn’t asking someone for consent kind of unsexy?” And it gets kind of frustrating after a while. One, they’re all probably (hopefully) doing it anyways without even realizing it and two, speaking from personal experience, asking is much MUCH sexier than not asking at all. But if you’re still confused, I’m going to break down exactly why you should be asking for consent and how to do it—in the most bedroom friendly way possible.
Step 1-Why Ask
Navigating becoming a sexually active human can be super confusing, sometimes scary and often many people aren’t taught how to actually talk about sex. This can especially be compounded by different cultures or religions and how they view and talk (or don’t talk) about sex. There’s a lot going on and there is a lot to learn so I understand where this confusion around asking for enthusiastic consent is coming from. You think, “I already got them to my room” or “they already took their pants off” or or or. It seems like lately we’ve gotten really big on non-verbal communication as a crutch for avoiding having to actually ask for consent. And as a result a lot of people think that relying on non-verbal cues in and outside the bedroom is a good substitute for asking. In fact, a lot of the time when I ask students how they know they have their partner’s consent, I’m met with a blank face, a long pause and then “ummm I guess I just know?” Spoiler alert, you actually might not know. You don’t know that you one hundred percent, absolutely, positively have someone’s consent unless you actually ask. This goes for hugs, handshakes and yes, sexual activity.
The other reason you should be asking is because it’ll make your sexual experience better-trust me. We all like to think that we’re just intuitively sex gods (or cuddle gods whatever floats your boat) but we’re not. The only way to truly know what your partner is or isn’t into is by asking- and there are so many fun and playful ways to ask. Whether you are in a committed relationship(s) or just hooking up with someone, if you care about your partner(s) and are interested in everyone having a good time, ask them what they want. Then be cool about and respect the answer. Which brings me to…
Step 2- How to Ask
So assuming everyone is still with me on the importance of asking for consent, it’s time to talk about how to do it (without killing the mood or whatever). I also want to note that, joking and all sarcasm aside, ruining the mood or asking in an “unsexy” way is still highly preferable to not asking at all. We can talk about how to make consent sexier all day but in the end it’s important to remember that it’s not just sexy, it’s mandatory. So even if you ignore all of this and just straight up ask your partner(s) in all your awkward glory if they want to “do the sex”, you’re still doing it right and are probably a 100 times sexier than people who don’t ask at all. But if you are interested in keeping those smooth R&B vibes going all night long try some of these:
- I think we’re both a little overdressed…can I help you get that shirt off?
- Do you like it when I touch you here? (Feel free to insert any body part you’re interested in touching into that sentence)
- I want to kiss you here, can I?
- I love it when you do x, y and z… can you do x some more?
- I’ve been thinking about doing this with you all night, can I keep going?
I kept it rated G for all the readers at home but feel free to make each phrase as specific and dirty as you’d like. In fact the more specific you are, the better. For even more ways to ask try here, here or here. And remember you’re probably asking for consent in all kinds of ways without even realizing it! You’re already halfway there. Every time you ask your partner “do you like that”, “does that feel good” etc. you’re inviting them to either say “hell yeah” or “actually not really, but let’s try this instead”.
Step 3- Have Fun
You did it! You asked for consent and didn’t ruin the mood or you kind of ruined the mood for 0.5 seconds and it didn’t matter because you asked for consent and that’s more important than vibes anyways. So go out there and have safe, consensual fun, whatever that looks like with your partner(s). And remember that just because you asked about one thing, doesn’t mean you can just do anything else you want. Keep asking… all night long.
About the author : Caitlin is a 4th year International Studies major completing her final co-op term with the SVSPO. In her position as an Education Program Assistant, she has enjoyed providing sexual violence education training on campus and is proud to be part of creating a culture of care at SFU. Caitlin is a passionate feminist, volunteer and enjoys travelling when not in school