By Aidan Cullis
The Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) has teamed up with campuses and organizations across the city to create a campaign based on bystander intervention to address sexual violence.
The campaign hit OC Transpo buses and campuses in late August, with brightly coloured posters covered in question and exclamation marks with arrows pointing to a scenario citizens of Ottawa may have encountered before. One poster read: “What’s with all the groping at this frosh party? Am I wearing a sign that says grab me? #JustGotWeird”
This is the same image text the #JustGotWeird website used as its homepage. It then asked the user to “rate the weird” from one to five. When a rating is selected, the user is brought to a page that displays a fact about sexual violence. In this case, the website says that most on-campus sexual assaults occur within the first eight weeks of classes. It then displays a box that gives advice on how they can become involved to not only provide support and educate others so that people have a better understanding of how sexual violence operates, but how to prevent sexual assault as a bystander.
“Security, health services, student support services, [etcetera] have all been involved in the campaign,” said Algonquin’s head of Security Services Patricia Eng. “It supports a similar initiative that Algonquin has focusing on women’s safety awareness and safer community resources in general.”
The campaign also promotes a smartphone app called R.I.S.E. (React, Intervene, Support, and Educate). The app was released last year by OCTEVAW. It acts in a similar fashion to the posters, presenting plausible scenarios and advice on how to de-escalate those possible or developing sexually violent situations, touching on everything from the campus bar to online harassment. It displays related sexual assault facts with each scenario, provides support resource information and educational videos, keeps you updated on developments via social media, and even allows you to contribute your own experiences and feedback to allow for even greater expansion on the topic of sexual violence. All of this in one convenient little app.
Michaela Sturt, a first-year Developmental Services Worker student, has come across many campaigns designed to eliminate sexual violence.
“[#JustGotWeird is] definitely different from other campaigns. It’s more helpful to teach bystanders how to stand up in situations like these because you don’t exactly have time to think before you react,” said Sturt. “People should be more comfortable intervening.”
Sturt was surprised at first to learn that OCTEVAW found the majority of sexual assaults that occur on campus happen within the first eight weeks, but then plausibly reasoned with the statement.
“The new environment, a place where hardly anyone knows you,” began Sturt, “It’s understandable. Some people just don’t understand what is appropriate behaviour and what isn’t. There’s a tendency to show off, especially at parties when people are around their friends.”
Likewise, Melissa Stewart thinks the campaign and its related app will be a gamechanger for how communities address sexual violence.
“When I attended Carleton for my undergrad, there were a lot of sexual assaults on campus. My girlfriends and I had developed routines to try and protect ourselves,” said the 1st-year music industry arts student. “I’m happy to see a campaign that addresses sexual violence across all genders, especially one that shifts the onus of prevention from those targeted to the community.”
It is clear that this is not a topic to be dismissed or diminished. Working together with the initiatives put forth by OCTEVAW and its partners, Algonquin and the City of Ottawa are striving towards erasing sexual violence in all its forms.
For more details on the #JustGotWeird campaign and the R.I.S.E. app, check out www.justgotweird.com or http://www.octevaw-cocvff.ca/projects/rise-social-media-app.