After CASE attended the Outrun the Stigma event put on by the Distress Centre on Campus Club and the Mental Health Awareness Club, one of our members was inspired to speak out about how eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health can support survivors of sexual assault.
We believe this is an important perspective that emphasizes the importance of eradication not only stigma surrounding mental health, but victim blaming language that invalidates the concerns and experiences of survivors. We also would like to thank the two previously mentioned clubs for putting on such an empowering event on campus.
The post begins below the photo gallery.
Trigger warning: sexual assault.
Mental Health & Sexual Assault: Eradicating the Stigma
submitted to CASE anonymously
The horrors of being sexually assaulted do not dissipate when foreign police officer shuts the file on your case and you fly back home across two continents. Since being assaulted thousands of miles away from home last year, the state of my mental health has been in complete disarray. In a society that pushes us to work harder, be more efficient, and sacrifice our own well-being in the name of “having it all,” self-care very often falls off the priority list. It was a shock to the system, being expected to return to campus as a full-time university student, under the pressure of performing well and balancing a fulfilling student life platter full of extra-curricular activities and a part-time job.
I thought it would be easy to go back to normal - do the readings, go to class, write the papers. I made it two days into the semester before the first time I erupted into tears on campus. You can’t put a “trigger warning” on history lectures recounting centuries of violence, or on walking down the street where a passerby might catcall you, or on a conversation with friends where sexist jokes are made and celebrated. Whatever that trigger may be, we live in a world that excuses perpetrators of sexual assault. My eyes have been opened to the nuanced normalization of sexual violence and I can’t look away. Recently, I have discovered “vicarious traumatization,” meaning that through my advocacy work in preventing sexual assault and hearing other survivors’ stories, my own symptoms of trauma have intensified. The triggers are everywhere - the strain of constantly hearing invalidating comments about my experience has added another layer of stress and frustration, making it difficult to even go to class or see friends.
Self-care and trying to take care of our mental health is falsely associated with “weakness” or “fragility”. There is a paralyzing stigma against reaching out for counselling or therapy. When I need to leave work early to go to counselling, I still find myself hiding the truth of where I am going and I avoid mentioning it out of the fear of awkward comments or unsupportive feedback. Even with my counsellor’s support, it is a constant battle for the reassuring and validating thoughts to prevail in a world that is telling you otherwise – telling you to get over it and “just smile.” I can’t just smile, not when I still struggle thinking about my own trauma, and the vicarious trauma that I have begun to identify with.
I don’t want to have to recount my traumatic experiences every time that I justify why sexist comments hurt so much. I want to live in a world where we are able to empathize with how badly survivors are struggling to heal, in a community where it is normal and encouraged to ask for help and go to counselling when we are hurting. Seeing hundreds of my peers and community members participate in Outrun the Stigma, cheering in support of breaking down the barriers around the mental health conversation, I feel we have started to take important steps forward to support many of us who continue to struggle. I only hope that the momentum carries forward and that we continue to grow this conversation.
The CASE team attended Take Back the Night and was asked to comment on the event by the Gauntlet. Check out the article here. We would like to thank the organizers for working so hard to put on such an important and empowering event!
While discussing Bill C-36 in the House of Commons on September 23, 2014, the Honourable Michelle Rempel used the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club’s work as example of groups who are working to prevent sexual assault. Although it is flattering to see our name mentioned in the House of Commons, and we are thankful for Ms. Rempel’s support, we would like to clarify that we as a group do not support Bill C-36.
Whether or not one wants sex work to happen in Canada, one effect Bill C-36 would have is to further marginalize and criminalize an already marginalized, criminalized group: aboriginal women. According to 2010-2011 reports from Statistics Canada, 41% of federally sentenced women were Aboriginal (more than 10 times their representation in the population). As Aboriginal women are also over-represented in street-level sex work, they are likely to be further criminalized by Bill C-36. If one wishes to decrease the incidence of sex work, helping to fund other opportunities and social support services for the individuals most affected would be far more effective than criminalization.
We also believe it is be necessary to look at the root reasons why some people choose to go into sex work in the first place. For example, when looking at people who enter out of economic necessity, it would be better to try to fix such economic inequalities instead of punishing the sex workers involved - people who are already marginalized within society. Similar statements could be made about helping to support individuals with substance abuse problems, people facing domestic violence, and those who struggle with their mental health. For individuals who go into sex work because it is a profession they choose out of a number of alternatives, allow them their own bodily autonomy and do not criminalize their activities. Conflating all sex work with sexual assault is fallacious.
Finally, the lives and voices of people engaged in street-level sex work should be prioritized in any legislation on the issue. Sex workers come from many different backgrounds and have diverse voices that should all be heard. Criminal restrictions on advertisements for sexual services force solicitation to move underground, and puts sex workers in a vulnerable position and at a greater risk for sexual assault. For these reasons, we do not feel Bill C-36 aligns with our values.
Campus Security has added a new phrase to the footer of their security e-mail alerts, stating, "A victim of crime is not responsible for the actions of a perpetrator." We are thankful to Campus Security for listening to the concerns of student leaders and consulting CASE to find more effective ways to support victims of sexual harassment and assault in this area. If we want to change the way people think about sexual assault, we have to rethink the language we use to talk about it. We are also thankful to the Students' Union for facilitating this important conversation between students and Campus Security.
This story was covered by the Gauntlet and FFWD Weekly.
Campus Security changes e-mail alert language
by Alexander Kim for the Gauntlet
Discussion of sexual assault still needs work
by Chris Adams for the Gauntlet
Crime alerts: U of C changes the way it informs the public
by Suzy Thompson for FFWD Weekly
Calling all CASE members!
We would like to invite you to our AGM next Monday, March 24! Here we will be discussing
constitutional changes, reflecting on this past year, planning for the next
year, and discussing new executive team openings!
If you would like to stay involved with CASE next year as a team leader or executive team member, we highly encourage you to attend. RSVP to the Facebook Event by clicking here.
2014/2015 CASE Position Openings:
Our president, Ellen Bolger, along with VP External Emily Leedham were interviewed by U of C newspaper, The Gauntlet, over the sexual assault incident on January 10th at the U of C. Thank you to The Gauntlet for giving considering us as a voice in this situation. Read it here.
We also responded to the campus security report, see below.
The Facebook Group “MRU Confessions” has created 1000 condoms with the slogan “Anonymously Get Inside” and is creating a disturbance around the Mount Royal University campus. After receiving criticism from faculty members and students, Admins from the group have been very defensive and argue that everyone is “taking a joke too seriously”. While it appears that the creators of the slogan did not have bad intentions when they chose their wording - the message can be seen to support attitudes and practices which normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone sexual assault.
While the slogan may have seemed appropriate to the group of Admins, they should have considered the ways it could be perceived by a wider audience. And while some argue that consent-focused slogans are less catchy, we would challenge them to look at the work we are doing at CASE, because we feel it is entirely possible to be catchy AND promote asking for consent.
At its best, “Anonymously Get Inside” could be good for a very specific niche - consenting individuals who want to have anonymous sex - however, it would have to involve the positive, voluntary consent of all involved.
At its worst, “Anonymously Get Inside” promotes forcing sex on someone without their permission. Anonymity is something which could be preferred by someone committing sexual assault - and the entire slogan seems to suggest that sex is something you do TO someone, instead of WITH someone. Additionally, the “get inside” aspect of the slogan seems to be speaking only to men, which ignores the experiences of women, as with as other individuals along the sexual orientation and gender spectrums.
If the slogans on these condoms offend you, please make your opinion known by submitting to the MRU Confessions page and/or complaining to officials at Mount Royal University. To MRU Confessions: now is a really great time to admit you made a mistake and stop distributing the condoms. Making mistakes is completely fine so long as you apologize and learn from them. Please be a Good Guy Greg, because if you continue as you are, you will be a Scumbag Steve.
Join CASE this Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 for a free film screening of the documentary My Feminism, a film by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert. This independent film features interviews with prominent leaders in second wave Feminism including Gloria Steinem, Urvashi Vaid, and bell hooks. The film discusses violence against women, birth control, among other issues. Following the screening, we will host a panel discussion and Q&A session with University of Calgary professors addressing violence against women in Canada.
RSVP on Facebook here.
CASE VP External Emily Leedham chats with Sean Willet on The Gauntlet Radio's October issue about CASE's mission to educate, how men can get involved in feminism and the club, and why the Men's Rights Movement is counterproductive. Listen here.
Interview with Jody Raphael, author of Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion and Victim Blaming are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis.
On July 22, our VP External Emily Leedham conducted an interview on Calgary's only feminist radio show Yeah, What She Said with Jody Raphael, author of Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion and Victim Blaming are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis. Jody is a professor of law and specializes in the area of violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual assault and the sex trade industry. The episode is now available as a podcast, which you can listen to here.
You can also order her book online here.