May 21st, 2018

Creating awareness about consent

By Schnarr, J.W. on February 14, 2018.

Kate Potts, left, and Whitney Balog, with the University of Lethbridge Sexual Violence Support team, were at the ÒOnly with ConsentÓ table at Anderson Hall on Tuesday. Herald photo by Tijana Martin @TMartinHerald

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

University of Lethbridge students have an opportunity this week to learn more about what consent means and how it applies to their everyday lives.

A number of events have been planned regarding the issue as part of Consent Week.

Whitney Balog, Sexual Violence Support and Education Co-ordinator with Counselling Services at the University of Lethbridge, said Consent Week carries an important opportunity to learn about the key principles of consent and to erase confusion about what it means. The goal is to create a cultural shift in attitudes and beliefs around consent.

“It happens slowly,” she said. “Our attitudes and beliefs, how we engage in relationships in our everyday interactions, and how important respect and consent are. This shift is helping to transform over time, a culture of consent, and that it’s in our everyday practices as well – and that practising consent is not limited to sexual intercourse.”

A group of U of L student volunteers make up a group called Sexual Violence Support Ambassadors and work to educate and create awareness about what consent is and who to ask for it, as well as what constitutes sexual assault and how to respond to it.

On Monday and Tuesday, the group had booths set up to share information regarding the issue. These “Only with Consent” tables provided information about how consent needs to be voluntary, sober, continuous, retractable, willing and clear.

“How do we ask for permission if we want to hug someone, or borrow their pen, or borrow their car?” asked Balog.

Other activities planned for Consent Week include #SurvivorLoveLetter booths today. The event will be an opportunity for students to write letters of support to individuals who have been subjected to sexual violence.

Those letters will be part of the Survivor night event Thursday, which will provide a comfortable and safe space for people who have been subjected to sexual violence, as well as their supporters.

Balog said there is an increasing recognition on campuses across the country of the prevalence of sexual violence as well as the impact of those acts.

“It’s vitally important to recognize and mindfully respond to it through prevention, education, and awareness,” Balog said. “And to really ground a response that is supportive when individuals do experience sexual violence and respond appropriately to it.”

There can be misunderstandings as to just what constitutes consent, and how important it is within relationships.

Balog said Consent Week is part of a broader structure of work happening on campus on the issue.

This also includes work regarding development and redevelopment of the U of L sexual violence policy.

She said the 2016 policy fell short of being able to appropriately respond in a comprehensive way to prevention, education and response on the campus.

A Preventing Sexual Violence Action Committee is comprised of a number of student groups, student service groups and faculty, as well as community consultations, in order to develop a second draft of the policy.

“I think it’s really important for the institution to be really clear about their commitments to responding to sexual violence,” Balog said. “We’ll be implementing that new policy hopefully in May or June.”

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