New sexual violence response role to provide safe space at University of Waterloo

The University of Waterloo has hired a sexual violence response coordinator who will help students, staff and faculty who have experienced sexual violence. Amanda Cook says her role will be to provide a safe space to help people figure out what they need and want to do.

New coordinator will provide support and guidance for both victims and accused

The University of Waterloo has hired a sexual violence response co-ordinator. Amanda Cook says her role will be to provide a safe space for students, staff and faculty who have experienced sexual violence. (University of Waterloo )

Amanda Cook says her office will be a safe space for anyone on campus who has experienced sexual violence.

The University of Waterloo's new sexual violence response coordinator said the list includes students, staff and faculty.

It also includes both victims and people accused of sexual violence.

"Number one is providing a safe space for them to discuss their experience," Cook said of her new role. "At times like these, which could be quite traumatic for people, it's difficult and probably overwhelming trying to determine what would be the next best step for them."

Cook was hired last month to the newly-created role. She has previously worked with Peel Children's Centre as a child witness specialist and a child and family clinician with the sexual abuse treatment program.

Resource for all

Cook is originally from Waterloo region, so she's pleased to be returning home. But she said she is also excited to be part of a new movement on the university's campus to address sexual violence.

Diana Perry, the school's vice president of human rights, equity and inclusion, said the role was created as part of a new provincially-mandated policy implemented in January to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campus.

"Waterloo is committed to fostering a safe and respectful environment where the impact of sexual violence is understood and individuals affected receive support," Perry said in the announcement of Cook's appointment to the role.

"In this new role, Amanda will serve as a community resource to ensure appropriate response to sexual violence including complainants, respondents, witnesses and front-line service providers."

The University of Waterloo isn't alone in implementing new policies. Many universities across Canada — particularly in Ontario and British Columbia — launched mandatory sexual assault policies, which experts say create a level of accountability.

Charlene Senn, a women's and gender studies professor at the University of Windsor, told CBC News the policies make a school "think through what will happen" in cases where people on campus are sexually harassed or assaulted.

'What's happened to you?'

It might be hard for some to consider helping a person accused of sexual violence and who might be guilty, but Cook said she tries to put that aside when helping them.

"Instead of looking at someone and saying, 'What's wrong with you?' instead it's, 'What's happened to you?' And certainly people who have engaged in sexually abusive behaviours, they typically have their own histories as well," she said.

"I try to come from a very non-judgemental stance."

Support and guidance

Cook said much of her role in the near future will just be letting people on campus know she's there for them.

She took part in Frosh week activities, will be going to faculty meetings and student events and will be meeting with other services on campus, including counselling, health services, residence and police.

"People can come to me and know that it doesn't automatically initiate an investigative process. My primary role is for support and guidance," she said, noting the response so far has been very positive.

"People have been really, really welcoming," she said.