OPIRG launches campaign to combat sexual violence on campus

New report to build on the work of the Sexual Assault Working Group

From left to right: Julie Lalonde, Bailey Gerrits and Roxanne Runyon all spoke at OPIRG’s event on Oct. 20.
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With the release of a new report on sexual assault at Queen’s on Tuesday, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) has launched a new campaign focusing on preventing sexual violence. 

The campaign, titled “We Believe In A Campus Free of Sexual Violence”, kicked off on Tuesday afternoon with presentations and open discussions on sexual violence at Ontario universities.

Roughly 30 people attended the event, which was held in the JDUC. Two Queen’s students — Roxanne Runyon, MA ’16, and Bailey Gerrits, a PhD student — introduced the report they’d written on sexual violence and discussed its recommendations for Queen’s.

 

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The report comes months after Queen’s Sexual Assault Support and Prevention Working Group (SAPRWG) released a set of 34 recommendations to the University to improve resources on campus.

OPIRG’s report states “this report aims to build on [SAPRWG’s] recommendations and calls for students and anti-violence organizations to work in solidarity with the working group to better address rape culture on Queen’s campus.”

OPIRG originally commissioned the report released on Tuesday last winter. It was the culmination of research carried out by Runyon and Gerrits on sexual violence, including a review of literature on the topic and interviews with anti-violence workers at university campuses on best practices.

Runyon and Gerrits introduced their report with a mention of the “It’s Never Okay” report — a report released earlier this year by the Ontario government addressing sexual violence in Ontario.

“You see this as an incredibly opportune time for Queen’s to step up and become a leader for universities across Ontario to use this document and to comment, and as a foundation [on which] to build,” Runyon said. 

The report makes several recommendations, including creating a campus sexual assault centre and establishing a sexual assault response and prevention office.

The report also recommended that the University create and implement a comprehensive and “ongoing anti-sexual assault violence educational program” and the development of a “robust peer education program”.

Evelyna Kay, a student who attended the event, said she thinks there isn’t enough support on campus for survivors of sexual assault. 

“A lot of it is centered around volunteers, usually student volunteers. There should be a lot more support, because we are a faculty of 22,000 people,” Kay, ArtSci ’17, said. 

Following the presentation by Runyon and Gerrits, Julie Lalonde — a social justice activist and Women’s Studies graduate of Carleton University — spoke about her experience advocating for policy reform regarding sexual violence at Carleton.

She played a vital role in advocating for a student-run, university-funded sexual assault centre at the university. Carleton’s centre opened in Sept. 2013 after around six years of advocacy work by Lalonde.

Lalonde also developed the draw-the-line.ca bystander intervention campaign, which seeks to engage people in dialogue about sexual violence.

At the event, Lalonde spoke about the hardships she faced while pushing administration at Carleton to open the sexual assault centre.

During negotiations, she said, she was once pulled aside by a member of the administration and told that they supported her efforts, but couldn’t speak up due to fears of facing pushback from the rest of the administration.

Arig al Shaibah, the assistant dean of student affairs and chair of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group (SAPRWG), was also present at the event. She said the actions of Carleton’s administration can be viewed as a form of bullying. 

“That’s a problem of the institution that creates that environment where people actually fear coming forward,” al Shaibah said.

During the event, organizers distributed copies of the OPIRG report along with petitions and posters.

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