Every N.S. university to receive bystander training to address sexual violence
'Bystander intervention often starts with having some of those tough conversations with people we love'
Calling out a friend's harmful behaviour at a bar might be hard, but it's key to addressing sexual violence, says the creator of a new bystander training program.
Johannah May Black is organizing training sessions at every university and several NSCC campuses in Nova Scotia after receiving funding from the provincial and federal governments to expand a program that started in Antigonish in 2017.
She teaches students and faculty how to intervene if they witness someone being harmed or behaviour that could lead to violence. She also trains them to hold their own sessions.
There have now been hundreds of sessions at campuses across the province, Black said.
"Bystander intervention often starts with having some of those tough conversations with people we love," she told CBC's Information Morning in Halifax. "So maybe you have a friend who's a really great person, but when they drink or do drugs, they start to act out in ways that they might not normally do."
That could be touching or dancing with someone who hasn't given their consent, Black said.
"Part of bystander intervention is not only maybe doing things like distracting them in the moment ... but also having that really difficult conversation the next day when they're sober."
Black said the idea behind the training is simple: preventing sexual violence isn't only up to survivors.
"We all have a role to play in ending sexualized violence," she said.
Black, the bystander intervention co-ordinator at the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre, created the Waves of Change pilot program in 2017.
The program has now travelled to every university in the province, except for University of King's College, which was rescheduled due to bad weather, Black said.
Last fall, Waves of Change was one of seven projects to get a piece of the province's $400,000 that was earmarked for projects geared at preventing sexual violence and supporting survivors on university and college campuses.
The project has also received funding from Justice Canada.
The sessions cover everything from consent, alcohol and the criminal code to topics that aren't often talked about.
"We're also able to give a much more in-depth discussion about things like coercion and some of those much more confusing areas that people see as more of a grey area," she said.
One of the modules, called Advanced Bystander Intervention, gives strategies for someone to step in when "the power between those causing harm and those intervening is particularly uneven."
Black said she's been overwhelmed with the positive response from participants.
"I've had you know young women, especially, come to me in tears afterwards and say you know, 'Thank you. I've never been encouraged to even think about what my boundaries are. No one's ever taught me to do that,'" she said.
Still, Black said promoting the message that sexual violence won't be tolerated requires work from all areas of a university.
"It needs to be really integrated into the curriculum, and it also needs to be part of our extra-curriculars in particular in places like athletics," she said.
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With files from CBC's Information Morning