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Sexual assault: ‘There’s still a lot of victim blaming’

The majority of cases go unreported. Here’s how to create a climate of support for survivors
November 12, 2014
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By Marilla Steuter-Martin

Jennifer Drummond: "Survivors have had an experience where their power was totally taken away from them, so you don’t want to reproduce that in your response."
Jennifer Drummond: "Survivors have had an experience where their power was totally taken away from them, so you don’t want to reproduce that in your response." | Photo by Concordia University


Recent high-profile cases of sexual violence have sparked heated public debates in Canada and the U.S. Meanwhile, college campuses across the country are busy addressing their policies — or lack thereof — around consent.

The United Nations Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 has never seemed more timely.

As coordinator of the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) for students, staff and faculty, Jennifer Drummond is at the forefront of sexual assault and consent conversations at Concordia.

In her office on the third floor of the Guy-Metro (GM) Building on the Sir George Williams Campus, Drummond sees as many as five new cases a week. “In Canada, there are more than 470,000 self-reported sexual assaults per year,” she says.

Drummond works closely with survivors, sometimes accompanying them to hospitals, to police stations and even to court. But many of her efforts are directed at educating friends and family members about the best ways to respond to disclosures of sexual violence.

“There’s still a lot of victim blaming. Whether they mean to or not, people can sometimes respond to someone’s disclosure in a way that’s really not helpful.”

Drummond cites remarks like “You should have been more careful” and “You shouldn’t have been drinking” as common responses that ultimately imply fault on the part of the victim.

Although the majority of cases still go unreported, she says it’s very important to avoid pressuring people who have experienced any form of sexual assault to go to the authorities or press charges.

“Survivors have had an experience where their power was totally taken away from them, so you don’t want to reproduce that in your response. We need to respect their decision. For some people it can be therapeutic to seek justice, but for others it isn’t.”

Another reason survivors can be hesitant to come forward is the fear of not being believed.

“I think rates of reporting will go up when the process of reporting, a case going to court and the criminal justice system in general, become more supportive of survivors,” Drummond says. 

Knowing how to best support and respect that person, be it a friend, family member or colleague, could go a long way to building that culture of support.

Considering that one in four women and one in six men in North America have experienced sexual assault, it’s likely that everyone has, or will, come into contact with a survivor at some point.

According to Drummond: “It’s frightening how common it is.”


Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre will be holding a workshop about how to support survivors on Wednesday, November 26, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (H-440, Henry F. Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Sir George Williams Campus).

The SARC is located at GM-300.25 in the Guy-Metro (GM) Building (1550 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.) on the Sir George Williams Campus. The drop-in centre is located at GM-300.27; it is staffed by volunteers Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Find out more about Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre
 



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