Trigger warning: This story contains text about sexual assault.
This year has been a big one for conversation-starters around sexual violence on-campus.
At the end of last year, UNB had just finished a round of deliberations surrounding the new Sexual Assault Policy and Procedures document before its release in May 2016.
In September, Maggie Forsythe from the Fredericton Sexual Assault Center (FSAC) came to UNB as the new Campus Sexual Assault Support Advocate (CSASA).
“When [the policy] came out, there was a position written into it that would be the point person in regards to receiving disclosures, for people who’ve been impacted by sexual violence,” Forsythe said about her appointment.
Forsythe supports students from UNB, STU and NBCC, and works out of Counselling Services at CC Jones. Her jurisdiction covers crisis, support, therapy and advocacy.
A sexual assault climate survey was conducted last year in an effort to discover more about sexual violence on-campus and the results were released to the public in late January.
Katie Beers, vice-president external of the UNB Student Union, put together a campaign with the results of the survey and supportive statements from the policy.
“First we were going to call it ‘It Happens Here,’ but that’s kind of a fear-inducing statement,” said Beers. Instead they decided to call it “Break the Silence.”
“We wanted to work with something that was more inclusive, more supportive, more encouraging … that’s where Break the Silence came from.”
The posters were put up all around campus and released on the UNBSU’s social media accounts in the third week of January.
“[It’s] kind of a reminder when you’re walking around campus that this is the environment we’re living in,” Beers said.
But what do the statistics shared on these posters actually translate to? Why is it important for conversation to be started around them?
Four students spoke to the Brunswickan about their experiences with sexual violence to show others they’re not alone in their struggle and to tell one of the many stories behind the statistics:
62 per cent of students’ experiences of sexual violence occur in a home known to them.
“I was in my second year. I went to Last Class Bash at S Club. It was my friend’s 20th birthday and one detail that always sticks out is that I decided to only drink blue drinks. We were just dancing and having a good time; a guy came up behind me … He was a little pushy, but nothing out of the ordinary.
“We went back to my dorm room and things were kind of off, but okay. But then I decided I just wasn’t into it. And so I got up and asked him to leave. He wasn’t really down with that plan. And then, I don’t really remember exactly what he said, he kept saying that he wanted to bang and that I should want to, too.
“The next thing I remember is turning off the lights and lying back down while he did his deal.
“I reported it to the police— not something that I would ever do again or advise anyone to do. I was told that because I didn’t fight back there wasn’t a ton they could do.
“There are small discrepancies in my statements. Like when they ask me how long, I say 10 minutes, and then a bunch of questions later they ask me again, and I say 15. So because of those they couldn’t make him come in and get a statement, he had to come in voluntarily … so essentially my case was closed.
“He got to move on with his life, I spent the summer after my second year of university putting my life back together. I switched degree programs — I was in arts taking a double major in sociology and gender studies. Then I just decided that I needed to change everything, which ended up working well for me. But just, lots of upheaval, a lot of loneliness.”
— Marie Olson, fourth year of study at UNB
Over 60 per cent of sexual assaults experienced by students were facilitated by alcohol.
“Last year, it was my friend’s 19th birthday so we were going out to Klub Khrome. She got super drunk and we couldn’t find her. We all split into groups of two and we were trying to navigate our way through [the downstairs] because there were so many people.
“There were these military dudes and they had been trying to dance with us all night … and then as I was trying to make my way through this one guy like grabbed me. One guy was behind me and he was holding my arms back, and then there was a guy in front of me and he was trying to kiss me and I was like, ‘No, please stop.’
“I had my phone in my hand and the guy behind me just threw it on the ground — and there were people around seeing everything that was happening and no one was doing anything and I was loudly being like, ‘Stop.’
“I was in shock at that moment and he was just doing stuff to me, which sucked. The other guy had my arms and they were like huge and massive so I couldn’t escape.
“Another girl who was looking for my friend saw me and went over and got me away from the situation. I’m kind of like, blurry on that part because it was just so overwhelming. I went upstairs and I cried for a long time. I couldn’t sleep that night; I had people come over and stay the night.
“It was hard, because I super appreciate how supportive everyone has been. But I’ve had a hard time accepting it myself so like when people are saying, ‘Oh, you were sexually assaulted.’ I was like, ‘No stop.’ Even though I knew I was, I didn’t want to say the words.
“I was really upset when I saw the alcohol poster, because I found that the language was super misleading. I think a big problem with stuff like this is that they put the responsibility on the victims to change.
“Like, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be walking around campus late at night or you should be more careful.’ But like, you shouldn’t have to have that responsibility. You should just be able to do everything that everyone’s doing or whatever you need to do.”
— Kelsey Benoit, second-year business administration student at UNB
1 in 5 students describe experiencing an incident of sexual assault since coming to UNB.
“I had a friend who went to UNB — he still goes here — and we went and hung out in his dorm. And we started like, he started off with a massage and then he just continued and he like threw me around the bed.
“I was too scared to say anything. I just lay there and he moved me around. It actually worked out really well because my boss called me like right then and was like, ‘Hey can you come in early?’ and I was like, ‘Definitely, be there as soon as I can.’
“I feel like consent is implied to some extent, [through] like body language and everything. Like if I’m lying there, not moving while you’re doing things to me, you probably might want to be like, ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’ And if I say no, well then stop.
“I never took it anywhere because we’re so involved in the same community and if I did, I feel like everyone would look at me like, ‘He didn’t do this to you, why are you doing this to him?’
But yeah, it was in his dorm room. He lived in McLeod. And so I hate McLeod now. I never go there.“
— Renaissance College student, second year of study at UNB
90 per cent of sexual assaults happen between two people who know each other.
“I was in a committed relationship with this guy. I first met him New Year’s Eve 2015. It was a very physically abusive, sexually abusive and emotionally abusive relationship. The physical abuse started once we came to school … we came to university together, the two of us.
“The sexual abuse started before that. It wasn’t like forceful, but it would be like if I didn’t want to participate in any sexual acts he would bully me, do it anyway. Or if I asked him to stop throughout he wouldn’t stop throughout. Like I’d be in tears, screaming for him to stop and he would not stop.
“I was shocked. I felt like I had no feelings and I had no control over myself. I was just totally beaten and totally defeated all the time. I felt like nothing.
“I didn’t think people would believe me. Everyone was like, ‘Well, why didn’t you just leave? Why didn’t you get out of there?’ But it was just like this total cycle of violence that you can’t get out of.
“It was extremely embarrassing to talk about. It took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t my fault. Convincing myself was one of the biggest issues; I blamed myself for the longest time. You always feel like deep down there’s something that you could have done but really … you can’t.”
— Jasmine Richard, second-year criminology major at STU
Every statistic is built upon millions of individual experiences. And while these students’ stories are just four of many more, the courage it takes to tell this kind of story should not go overlooked.
“Sexual violence is something that, in its very nature, is shrouded in secrecy and isolation,” explains Forsythe. “It creates a lot of shame, self-blame, self-hatred, a lot of self-worth problems, and when we talk about anger, it’s usually pointed inward and that is really harmful to a person.”
“If we can start talking about it and start breaking down the barriers about the myths and the shame, hopefully people will come forward and stop internalizing all of those things,” Forsythe said.
It could happen to anyone. When we say it happens here, it’s not an attempt to induce fear, but to bring attention to the effects sexual violence has had on the lives of so many people, even those you might call a classmate or a close friend.
A personal statement by the author:
For a long time I didn’t think that I was raped because I didn’t try hard enough to not be raped. Sure I’d say no repeatedly, that I didn’t feel like it. I’d push away the hands, I’d roll over, display all of the signs of disinterest. I was sore. I was tired.
But in the end it was never enough, and after those first few protests were ignored, it was happening anyway.
Sometimes I would go silent, bury my head in the pillow to hide the pain from an act my body didn’t want, and just wait for it to be over. Other times I’d act into it. One time he said to me, “Babe, don’t make so many noises, it makes me cum faster.” I always made sure to be loud as fuck after that.
It’s funny because reading that now, I think to myself, “How could that be anything but rape?” But I was convinced. He was my boyfriend, my first time. We loved each other, sometimes I wanted to … The idea that I might have been raped came to me years after the first time it happened, on August 15, 2011.
Breaking the silence around sexual assault is more than just showing some scary statistics and telling some sad stories. It’s about creating an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their experiences, without being scared of judgement or disbelief.
I didn’t feel like I had the right to claim rape. In a lot of ways I still don’t. It’s scary to talk about this thing—this big thing nobody talks about except to make some joke that trivializes the whole goddamn thing.
But it helps to talk about it, it really does.
And so while the Student Union campaign might be over, I encourage everyone to carry on with their conversations around sexual violence. And to anyone experiencing any type of issue surrounding sexual violence, here’s a message from CSASA Maggie Forsythe:
“It takes a lot of courage to break the silence: to come forward and talk about your experience with sexual violence. So much we are worried about other people. So we don’t come forward. There’s that sentiment that we don’t want to ruin their lives.
“But the most important thing is getting some support and knowing that you have choice and control in the situation, because you do, and so often we feel like we don’t. I encourage you to know that there’s a safe place, we’ll do everything we can to make you feel like you can continue here in a functional way, reach your goals that you came in here with.”