University launches support group for survivors of sexual assault

PEGaSUS will discuss different topics related to assault in weekly meetings

A poster in the La Salle building advertising PEGaSUS.
A poster in the La Salle building advertising PEGaSUS.
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The Psycho-Educational Group for Survivors of Sexual Assault (PEGaSUS), a new support group launched by Queen’s for survivors of sexual assault, is looking to show students that they’re not alone.

Psychoeducation is education offered to people with mental health issues to help them cope with their condition, and is often also offered to the families of people with mental health conditions.

PEGaSUS, which is available in fall and winter terms, is targeted directly towards university-age students, which Arig al Shaibah, assistant dean of student affairs, said there was a need for in Kingston.

Group work can help break the isolation that surrounds survivors and support recovery, she said.

A National College Health Assessment report released in 2013 by Health, Counselling and Disability Services found that 11.4 per cent of Queen’s students had reported nonconsensual sexual touching in the previous 12 months, and 2.1 per cent had reported sexual penetration without consent.

The Peer Support Centre received 10 reports of sexual assault in 2013-14. From January to September 2014, the Kingston Police Force reported 21 sexual assaults in Zones 1 and 4, which encompass Queen’s campus and the University District.

“There is a sexual assault crisis centre in the community which is a great resource,” al Shaibah said. “They’re open to students, to university students, and they’re welcome to attend, but this was an attempt to actually have a unique group program specifically for university-age students.”

The group isn’t expected to be larger than 10 to 12 students so that the setting remains “intimate”. If more than 12 students request to join the group, the lead facilitator will speak with the student and see if they'd like to join the winter term group or receive immediate individual support.

Right now, there are still spots available in the fall term group.

al Shaibah said she believes this is the first campus-based ongoing psycho-educational group for Queen’s students who have experienced adult sexual assault.

The group is funded by the Eilidh Balkwill fund, administered by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs to support women studying at Queen’s, particularly first-years. The grant was established in 2009 by Balkwill’s estate to provide funding for women’s residences.

“That proposal was endorsed by the entire membership of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response working group,” said al Shaibah, who chairs the group.

The group’s expenses were for designing and printing posters, which she said ran around $250, as well as “incidental supplies” and snacks for the meetings.

The group began meeting on Sept. 25 and will meet every Thursday, but is open for anyone to join. It’s facilitated by Hagar Akua Prah, outreach counsellor and student life advisor for the JDUC, and Nadia Sawaya Fehr, outreach counsellor for residences.

Meetings begin with greetings, check-ins, introductions and ground rules. The counselors then introduce the week’s topic.

“The counselors provide some information but mainly they encourage discussion, sharing and reflection on the session topic, and then the group members are free to just listen if they want to or to share if they want to,” al Shaibah said. “It’s really entirely voluntary how much they engage.”

She said the approach is intended to be student-centered, and both informative and supportive.

"The primary goal is for students to have a forum where they can be invited to use their voice, express themselves in a safe environment, to break that isolation and to develop … that sense of empowerment through the collective experience.”

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