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A question of support

On Oct. 3, NAIT hosted the activation event for the 2017 #IBelieveYou Campaign. The campaign was created by the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) in 2015 as a means to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward. Through positive support and community engagement, the campaign aims to eliminate the fear and guilt that victims of abuse may possess. The campaign has implemented post-secondary visits, seminars and displays, as well as expanded its online presence to encourage the community to open up about sexual assault.

NAIT has hosted the #IBelieveYou campaign for the past three years in an effort to establish a positive culture in which students can feel safe seeking support as well as to educate students about the resources available. Tim Ira, the student programs co-ordinator for the Department of Student WellBeing and Community at NAIT says the campaign has already shown a positive impact on individual student behaviour at NAIT.

“Being a survivor complicates how you interact with the world … ‘I believe you’ are three simple words that equip students with the tools to support other students,” said Ira. He explains the primary aim for the campaign’s visit to NAIT is to “facilitate the education related to sexual assault.”

Annette Cleveguard has been employed with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton for three years. She works specifically with the community engagement department, facilitating public education by providing workshops and professional development sessions for those interested in learning more about sexual violence. She is also an integral part of the #IBelieveYou campaign, travelling to post-secondaries across Edmonton to promote its message.

“For many reasons, people don’t feel like they can come forward or talk about it or reach out for support and one of the biggest reasons is because people are fearful that they won’t be believed,” said Cleveguard.

“The #IBelieveYou campaign is just getting the message out there about how everybody can do a really simple thing to support somebody who discloses abuse to them and that’s, of course, saying … I believe you, it’s not your fault,” continued Cleveguard.

The campaign has utilized social media to “create a conversation online,” said Ira. In an effort to further intensify their online presence, the 2017 campaign is creating a living mosaic out of all social media posts shared with the hashtag #IBelieveYou. Messages, photos and videos will be compiled throughout the event to create a digital collage of inspiring and encouraging messages.

NAIT is among many post secondary institutions across Alberta who’ve received a visit from the #IBelieveYou campaign. They are spreading the message across the province, with trips to many post secondary institutions, including Concordia University, MacEwan University, Burman University and Grande Prairie Regional College. The City of Calgary is also doing its part, with the Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse organization leading similar #IBelieveYou events and seminars.

Each year, the #IBelieveYou campaign has encouraged social media activity in order to increase the campaign’s reach. The positive effects are evident. In Alberta, the percentage of people who would respond positively should a survivor confide in them, has increased by 45 per cent from the pre-campaign to 2016. Additionally, the number of new counselling clients utilizing AASAS’s resources has increased by 53 per cent. The #IBelieveYou message has reached over seven million through social media and the organization hopes to continue this trend.

“It’s been remarkably impactful. The numbers of people in phone surveys who’ve indicated that they would say ‘I believe you’ has increased many many folds versus when they [AASAS] asked prior to the campaign,” continued Cleveguard.

Ira asserts that the #IBelieveYou campaign is “a campaign for everyone” and urges students to educate themselves about the resources that are available on campus should they be needed. Student Counselling Services, NAIT peace officers, the Student Resolution Office and Health Services are excellent resources for anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault. nait.ca/ ask4consent is another platform where students can learn how to get support, give support, learn more about consent and about NAIT’s policies.

-Shawna Bannerman, Assistant Editor

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