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.
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
We are a bit late posting this, but we were extremely grateful to receive the 2014 SU Clubs Advocacy Award, as well as an Honourable Mention for Best New Club last semester. It was so encouraging to see all of our hard work recognized after our first year getting our feet off the ground as a club. We feel so much love and support from the campus community and very positive moving forward for the 2014/15 year. Thanks to everyone who has supported us!
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.
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.
CASE President Ellen Bolger was asked to comment on the recent Men's Rights group in Calgary for an article in the Gauntlet.
“I think it’s sad. The people who are joining [Men’s Rights Edmonton] might have good intentions because there are many issues that men do face,” Bolger said. “But I think that the outlet that they are going through is almost dangerous because it is based on facts that aren’t true. It is important for other groups to speak out so that the public can hear the truth instead of just believing what these groups say.”
Joe Campbell from Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse also shared some excellent words:
“Sexual violence is an issue that matters to many Albertans,” Campbell said. “When opinionated groups come forward dispelling nothing more than harmful and misinformed beliefs, those messages really hurt those who have been impacted by these crimes and serve to deepen those opinions and beliefs of people who don’t truly have an understanding of this issue."
Read the full article 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.
The University of Calgary Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club is curating a creative exhibition on campus in the winter semester entitled Consent is a Conversation. We are looking for a vast array of creative entries: paintings, photos, videos, theatre sketches, music, dance, sculptures, spoken word, written entries – you name it.
We are looking for submissions from people from every walk of life – different genders, ages, orientations, ethnicities, etc. You do not have to be an “artist” to submit an entry; we think every voice is important. Your entry can be about any kind of consent – it does not need to be about sex – so children are welcome to enter.
Consent is defined as: permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. In your entry you can explore:
• What is consent?
• What does consent look like?
• How do you feel when consent is not asked for or not respected? (I.e. when someone does something without your permission)
• What would a world where consent is asked for and respected look like?
Deadline has been extended to January 20, 2014.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject
“Consent is a Conversation Submission"
*Spread the word!* Make this your Facebook cover photo!
View PDF flyer here.
Ending rape culture requires more than just banning offensive chants, but a critical look at the way we construct gender and the values in our society. CASE VP External Emily Leedham wrote an article in the University of Calgary's independent student newspaper, the Gauntlet, highlighting the more nuanced ways to approach the issue. Here's an excerpt:
"In fact, according to the Statistics Canada report cited earlier, 58 per cent of sexual assault victims did not report their experience to the police because they did not feel it was important enough. What we really need to end is not simply rape chants, but trivialization of women’s everyday experiences: the microaggressions, the jokes, the calls for women to calm down and not take things so seriously."
Read the rest here.