Love Letters for Survivors to help raise awareness for sexual violence
By Ryleigh Kampman, Contributor
Last May, campus was quiet and halls were sparse, but Mount Royal University’s Office of Campus Equity and Meaningful Inclusion was buzzing and plugging away with their latest campaign Love Letters for Survivors.
It’s aim is to raise awareness about sexual violence. As the stir of the fall semester begins to perk up again, Love Letters for Survivors is an excellent reminder of the community, support, believing and resources at MRU for survivors of sexual violence.
Just a few simple pieces of paper, a pen, and a booth on main street was all it took to encourage students and faculty to foster a culture of change and support, simply by taking the time to write a love letter.
“Dear Survivor, you are not the problem. You are not an inconvenience.The sexual abuse was not your fault and you are not responsible for what happened to you,” read a letter, which was posted on the Instagram handle ‘MRUCEMI’.
Throughout the month of May, Alberta’s Sexual Assault Awareness month, the Office of Campus Equity and Meaningful Inclusion posted love letters on their social media to raise awareness and cultivate a sense of community in which survivors of sexual violence felt supported and believed.
Cari Ionson, Sexual Violence Response and Awareness Coordinator, says the project was a success, but was not the first of its kind. It was led in collaboration with Bow Valley College and the University of Calgary, and was pioneered by campaigns such as #Ibelieveyou and ‘Dear Survivor’.
“For a lot of people, they don’t necessarily want to talk about their experience or want to disclose it to anybody and that’s OK, too,” Ionson said. “But what we are wanting to do is just make sure that [survivors] know that they are supported and that they are believed and that what happened to them was not their fault.”
Ionson works with anyone who has been impacted, recently or historically, by sexual, dating or domestic violence. She explains how her role may vary depending on the needs of students.
“It might be immediate intervention and support in that moment [or] I might be doing things around safety planning, or checking in around workplace or academic accommodations.
“If somebody is wanting to make a report to the university I can certainly support with that or if they’re wanting to make a report to the police I can talk to them about what that would look like and connect with them around what that would mean for them in their lives as well,” Ionson said, adding her office, located at NC201, is always open.
“For reports of sexual assaults that have happened recently, within the past four days (96 hours), we do have the Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team (CSART) available as well,” she said.
MRU also offers counseling services and also, once a week, a local sexual assault agency, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA) comes to the university.
“There’s people that are specialized in talking to folks around this issue as well as making sure that they can access support available to them. For some of our students, for example, if they were to go away for Christmas holidays and wanted to talk to find out what resources were available in their [home]town in Alberta, they would be able to call that line and talk and find out what’s available there, too,” Ionson explained.
She hopes Love Letters for Survivors helped address the stigmas surrounding sexual violence, noting that, “one of the primary reasons people won’t come forward is because they’re worried that they won’t be believed.
“We’re working to, through things like Survivor Love Letters, to create that culture of support and fighting stigma,” Ionson said.
According to Ionson, stigma often looks like, “things like questioning what the survivor was doing before the assault, what they were wearing, what they were drinking.”
All attitudes, according to Ionson, create a culture of blame and shame and don’t allow people to access the support and healing that that they need to be able to thrive within our community.
“I really just wanted to demystify or destigmatize help seeking, and recognizing what seeking help could look like and what could be possible for people,” Ionson said. “I hope that people saw a lot of community within this as well — a community of support and believing… To see how many people are caring about this issue, wanting to seek changes, and caring about their community in this way — that was really meaningful.”