Content warning: Discussion of sexual violence

Students gathered in a University College lounge on Tuesday to hear an info and action session hosted by HERE, a swiftly expanding feminist letter writing society.

The meeting was called to address the issue of sexual violence on university campuses.

Two organizers of anti-sexual violence campaigns at the University of Toronto gave a presentation. Celia Wandio, founder of  U of T Students Against Sexual Violence, and Katrina Vogan, founder of the Thrive Initiative, spoke to a variety of issues surrounding sexual violence policies at Canadian universities.

The presenters highlighted that, on most Canadian postsecondary campuses, including the University of Toronto, there are no policies dedicated to sexual violence.

At U of T, sexual violence falls under the Code of Conduct, addressed in the same way as many other university infractions such as plagiarism.

HERE-Jennifer Su-IMG_3920Wandio and Vogan said that, in the United States, despite a recent array of high-profile sexual violence cases on university campuses, there are at least best practice policies in place.

Best practice policies mean that there are interim procedures, such as access to certain services.

Advocates like Wandio and Vogan are demanding that universities adopt specific, explicit sexual violence policies for their campuses that give options to survivors.

Vogan’s Thrive Initiative includes a survey of student experiences with U of T services and perceptions of safety at U of T, as well as demographic information. 

Vogan is still collecting data and has received results from about one per cent of the St. George student population. Vogan urged everyone present to share the survey and participate, including men or others traditionally less vulnerable to sexual violence. “We need baselines,” she said. “We need men to respond too.”

Wandio and Vogan also spoke about the effects of sexual violence at an interpersonal level. “You can, in fact, catch trauma,” Vogan said.

While it is often professionals like doctors or psychologists who are at risk, those who step in as caretakers to victims of sexual violence are at risk. Reading down a long list of physical and psychological symptoms, they explained that the list was nearly identical for victims and caretakers.

The presentation highlighted how sexual violence is discussed in the media, with emphasis put on the events leading up to and during the assault, rather than its consequences.

“[We] don’t talk about the fact that the ‘after’ is very long,” Vogan said.

She implored those present to demand more of the university. “There’s power in afterwards,” she added.

HERE holds monthly meetings where members write letters, aided by prompts, to anyone or anything. The founders of the group chose letters as their medium of expression because it is direct and allows for expression without academic or other traditional structuring.

Editor’s Note: HERE is a feminist letter writing society.

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