Sexual assault survivors helped by three important words

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
September 12, 2017 - 3:58pm

Three words can make all the difference to a survivor of sexual assault according to the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services.

“I believe you."

That was the key message shared Tuesday at Red Deer College, where students and staff were invited to sign a banner bearing the phrase.

“It’s extremely important to get the message out to people who’ve been affected or who are affected through friends or family so that they know there is support,” says Shalea Harder-Mah, employee at the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre and president of the on-campus Sexual Assault and Abuse Awareness Group.

“It’s empowering on both sides -- being able to be that support and hearing the relief in their words, their composure and their body. A lot of people wil break down and cry because they’ve never heard those words, no one’s ever believed them, or they haven’t told anyone before.”

Harder-Mah says talk on campus about sexual assault has grown dramatically in her five years as a psychology student.

“The statistics don’t really lie. People might not come forth about it very often and the statistics of reporting are very low as well, but it for sure happens,” she says. “What we’re really trying to do is get people to talk about it so it’s not such an isolated issue and so people aren’t suffering from mental health issues because of the trauma.”

Sharon Poole, Manager of the Counselling and Career Centre at RDC, says it’s great that more people are reaching out, but the number of sexual assaults that are happening will always be too high.

“It’s really complex in terms of a conviction and so it makes it really hard for victims to come forward and have confidence that their story will be believed and that consequences will be handed out,” says Poole.

“We're working on a policy right now that's going to be approved within the next couple months to guide our direction in responding to sexual violence and prevention of sexual violence on campus. The school, the administrators and the president are very committed to making sure this campus is a safe campus.”

AASAS statistics show a 53 per cent jump in new counselling clients since last year. Since the campaign began in 2015, the number of Albertans who would give a supportive response to a survivor has more than tripled and the number who would say ‘I believe you’ has gone up twelve times.

The national reporting rate for sexual assault remains at five per cent, according to a release.

The ‘I Believe You’ campaign is a partnership between the ministries of Community and Social Services, Status of Women Alberta, Health, Justice, and Advanced Education, as well as post secondary campuses in Alberta (28) and Ontario (2) and not-for-profit human service organizations across Alberta.

More information is at IBelieveYou.info.

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