John Abbott College has a new policy, required by law, pertaining to sexual violence. In order to break it down and understand it more clearly, I spoke with Antoine Beauchemin, a member of JAC’s counselling team.
Simply put, “[p]olicy 24’s goal is is to protect students and employees of the College in order to create a culture where we can all feel safe regarding sexual violence in particular”. While the sexual violence aspect can seem vague, it is an intentionally broad term in order to encompass all things of a sexual nature, meaning advances, texts, or blatant harassment. Not only does the new policy institute clear rules about what cannot be done and explicitly explain the consequences of those rules being broken, but it also includes distinct measures for how to prevent these things from happening. A big focus of the document is mandatory training for students, faculty, and employees in order to educate them on what is appropriate and on notions of consent, and on how we can subsequently apply these notions to our relationships. The end goal is obviously to have a society where these things won’t need to be taught, but in the meantime this policy wants to use the college as a microcosm that can propel that change forward.
While all of that seems rather large and intimidating, Beauchemin explains that there are things that we as students can do on a daily basis to help create that kind of culture. There are obviously the surface elements of looking out for each other, encouraging people to set limits, or making sure we ask for consent and respect these boundaries, but there is also the deeper element of being aware of our language. At the end of the day, much of our normalized vocabulary (using ‘rape’ in situations that aren’t, referring to sex as something that can be taken, or justifying an inappropriate action by using something the victim did) is responsible for perpetuating things like rape culture over a culture of consent.
Naturally, going explicitly against that culture in trying to rectify it can cause apprehension about being an outcast. Thankfully, our culture in general seems to be changing (as evidenced by the fact that this policy is a law) meaning that if someone were to turn their back on you for ‘correcting’ their language, the chances of someone else supporting you are much higher. Nevertheless, Beauchemin explains that the 3 three Ds (distract, act directly, and delegate) are great ways to promote a culture of consent.
Finally, I spoke with Beauchemin about John Abbott’s Sexual Assault Response Team, a resource operating on several fronts to support victims of sexual assault. By offering psycho-social support, they aim to create a space where students can not only feel like they can talk, but also be heard. They also focus on what can be done in the aftermath of the event to make sure the student feels safe, looking at options stretching as far as removing the perpetrator from the school or building. SART is also the link between the student and outside resources that are experts in dealing with the repercussions of situations like this.
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 03 on October 9th, 2019