By Mike Foster
You’re at a party and you see a female friend accepting a drink from a male acquaintance. She says it tastes funny. Half an hour later, you see the man taking her arm and leading her upstairs. She seems reluctant.
What do you do?
As part of the University of Ottawa’s efforts to prevent sexual violence, hundreds of students and university employees are attending Mobilizing the Bystander workshops to help them spot the potential for sexual violence and intervene before it happens.
In June, the University’s Human Resources department trained more than 40 employees in the Housing Service and Sports Services, along with executive members of the Student Federation (SFUO), to become Mobilizing the Bystander trainers. They, in turn, have been sharing what they have learned with hundreds of others.
Last week, Francesco MacAllister-Caruso, SFUO vice-president, services and communications, led a workshop for more than 100 student 101 Week guides who were about to welcome new students to the campus. MacAllister-Caruso said everybody has a responsibility to act to help de-escalate and prevent potential incidents of sexual violence.
“An active bystander is someone who steps in, speaks out or reaches out in situations that are or could be threatening to an individual or a group,” he said.
People are conditioned to mind their own business, but the bystander training gets people to see situations “along the continuum of sexual violence” and determine when it is necessary to act, MacAllister-Caruso said. Steps can range from asking simple questions such as “Are you OK?” or “Is he with you?” to distracting the aggressor or calling Protection Services or the police.
After the workshop, biotechnology student Jeffry Colin said, “I am really happy to see the University taking positive steps to demystify sexual violence and make our campus safe for everyone. This training provides tools for us to identify inappropriate situations and act in ways that are safe and effective in preventing sexual assaults.”
Developing education and training materials on the prevention of sexual violence are key recommendations of the University’s Task Force on Respect and Equality. Mobilizing the Bystander is the second training module, adapted by uOttawa from materials produced by the University of New Hampshire and Western University. Two other training modules on the prevention of sexual violence and how to support survivors are being developed.
“By having these modules, we’re making a statement around respect and equality. We’re saying this is the kind of culture that we want to create at uOttawa. Training is one means of preventing sexual violence and ensuring an environment that is free of harassment,” said Sophie Ménard, director of leadership, learning and organizational development at Human Resources.
On June 27, the University’s Board of Governors adopted a new policy on the prevention of sexual violence. It introduces increased support for survivors, a formal complaint mechanism, a Sexual Violence Response Team, prevention and awareness campaigns, and a committee on the prevention of sexual violence that will report directly to uOttawa President Jacques Frémont.
The University’s Sexual Violence: Support and Prevention website has resources for survivors of sexual violence and information for those who have witnessed sexual violence.