By Rachel Aiello
The start of the school year sees the highest incidents of sexual violence on college and university campuses.
It’s such a concern, that the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women and the college’s security services are raising awareness on campus.
With the help of students and administrators from Algonquin, Carleton, University of Ottawa and La Cité collégiale, OCTEVAW has launched an app aiming to prevent and raise awareness about gender-based violence on campus.
Named R.I.S.E, the app is part of the Preventing Violence Against Women on Campuses Project, funded by Status of Women Canada. This project looks to connect the issue of violence against women on all four campuses.
Through the process, research and social media steering committees met monthly and conducted focus groups and interviews with young people at the local schools, said project manager, Dillon Black.
Earl Green, coordinator of security investigations at the college, is optimistic about the app’s potential on campus.
“I hold the sexual assault area near and dear as one of my biggest areas of concern on the campus. Generally we don’t receive many sexual assault complaints, a few per year,” he said.
Counselling services and the Students’ Association were the main bodies involved in the consultation for Algonquin. Black cited Natalie Dixon, a director on the 2012-2013 SA board, as being a driving force.
The content of the app was sculpted by the information gathered by the committee members, many of which were previous connected to the issue or had strong ties with student life on campus.
“For me it was really about trying to get the campuses to really look at the issue and see how prevalent it was on campus and kind of take a more proactive stance on preventing violence on campus and making it a priority,” said Black.
Initiatives like R.I.S.E and the ‘may I kiss you?’ posters that were put up in residence this fall, help to raise awareness. Green thinks with a more open dialogue surrounding sexual and gender based violence, the campus can work towards diminishing these types of crimes.
As of now, most of the incidents on campus have been confined to unwanted touching. Green cited three separate incidents this term.
“We do take a very strong stand on it, and I don’t just mean Algonquin College security services, I’m talking about the entire college,” said Green. “From the presidents office all the way right down to the students association, we all have very strong stances on sexual assault, for obvious reasons of course.”
Security services also have an app, where they update on information they gather from their connections with various policing agencies in Ottawa.
“Sometimes they go to the areas of universities and colleges to see if we’ve been working any cases around any suspicion of sexual assault or sexual touching, because what happens quite often is that many survivors don’t report them,” he said.
“But the main reason is to make people aware. Anyone can be a victim. It’s about being aware of little voice if things aren’t right.”
Complementary to this, R.I.S.E is rooted in emphasizing bystander intervention and fostering a college community of responsibility. Within the app, there are scenarios given that help give insight to someone unsure how to handle situations, say, at the campus bar, at a transit station or the library.
The response to its launch so far has been successful. OCTEVAW is coordinating with campus clubs, distributing bookmarks and are working on reconnecting with the SA following it’s restructuring.
With national recognition, Black hopes the database of the app and it’s users will expand.