The University of Calgary held an expert panel on Friday to discuss how sexual violence is addressed on campuses in Calgary.
“The highest risk group for sexual violence in Canada are females aged 15-24,” said Debra Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS). “That’s why we see a lot of violence on post-secondary campuses.”
According to an AASAS fact sheet, more than 39 per cent of Canadian women have experienced a least one incident of sexual assault since the age of 16. In Alberta, that number sits much higher at 58 per cent.
Carla Bertsch, a sexual violence support advocate for the University of Calgary, Carli Ionson, a sexual violence response and awareness coordinator from Mount Royal University, and Erin Kordich, the sexual violence support and education liaison for Bow Valley College, all spoke at the event, Standing in Solidarity: Addressing Sexual Violence in Post-Secondary
“I see a lot of students, who, there’s so much internalized victim-blaming happening that they haven’t told their partner or their parents that it happened,” Bertsch said. “These are often young students who need those social supports.”
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Bertsch started her new role as a support advocate at the U of C in 2017.
“Acknowledging that you shouldn’t have to come back to school and study alongside or work alongside someone who has caused you a severe amount of harm is important,” she said.
“Lots of people just need to be validated, they need to be heard and know this wasn’t their fault.”
Students said they’re noticing a difference due to Bertsch’s work.
“I think she’s made a huge difference,” Alisha Gordon with the U of C’s student’s union. “Prior to having Carla, a lot of students relied on each other or some of the great counsellors who may not have that expertise.”
Gordon said the student’s union is also working to host some of its own student-led sexual violence prevention workshops in the upcoming year.
“We know sexual violence impacts a lot of different students in a lot of different ways,” she said. “We want to educate students about the resources that exist.”