Make some noise and make a difference while showing your support for survivors of sexual assault by taking part in the second annual #IBelieveYou campaign.
The #IBelieveYou campaign, which launched on Sept. 19, 2016, aims to promote the cultural shift of Canadians choosing to stand by victims of sexual assault rather than to minimize, shame or justify acts of sexual violence.
Funded by the provincial government and supported by the Canadian Armed Forces’ Operation Honour and Albertan post-secondary institutions, the campaign was created last year by the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Services — otherwise known as AASAS — and the organization’s 12 member agencies.
One of those partners is Sherwood Park’s Saffron Sexual Assault Centre.
“We have always had the mentality that it’s never the victims fault and we know that what scares a lot of people from coming forward is thinking that they are not going to be believed,” said Katie Kitschke, executive director at Saffron.
Kitschke adds that Saffron’s goal is to spread the message to those who have been affected by sexual violence that they will be believed.
However, she said creating a safe environment for survivors to come forward and seek the help they need is a task sexual assault centres like Saffron can’t do alone.
“We need to get the whole community involved in changing attitudes and behavior and we thought that this campaign was an easy way to get the awareness out there,” said Kitschke.
To get involved in the campaign, take a photo or 10-second video with a group of like-minded, loud and proud individuals and share your literal shout-out to survivors of sexual assault. Get creative and get noisy by smashing kitchen pans, blowing horns and whistles or come up with a team cheer.
“We could potentially reach millions using social media as a vehicle to spread a message,” Kitschke said. “Whereas if it was just us we would reach thousands.”
Debra Tomlinson, chief executive officer at ASSAS, said that this year’s campaign additionally focuses on celebrating Albertans who are already supporting survivors of sexual assault.
“What I hope is that culture change will result in more survivors feeling comfortable to come forward and that we can then celebrate a culture of telling,” Tomlinson said, adding that the eventual outcome is a safer and healthier community for everyone.
Indeed, the effects on a victim of sexual violence not being believed can be damaging.
“We see every different stage where someone experiences sexual violence. They tell somebody, they are not believed and they don’t know how to cope with those emotions,” Kitschke said. “So they may start self-harming, turning to addictions or abusing someone else.”
Kitschke adds that society is quick to believe individuals who come forward about physical abuse, but the same treatment is not always given to people who have been sexually abused — despite the fact that 50 per cent of Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.
Furthermore, Kitschke said that historically sexual violence has often been justified and belittled.
“Men were legally able to sexually assault their wives until 1981 in Canada,” she said. “So, in history there hasn’t been a lot done to stop it.”
However, Kitschke maintains that society’s views are changing.
“I think the reason that we are seeing a cultural shift is because this is the current social issue,” Kitschke said.
Tomlinson said that believing a survivor of sexual assault is also one of the best defenses against perpetrating violence.
“It brings the crime out of the shadows and into the open and makes it a whole lot harder to get away with,” she said.
“It also challenges the lie that people who do sexually assault others often tell their victims: that no one is going to believe you.”
Moving forward, Kitschke hopes that the community will be more open and have more conversations about respect and sexual boundaries.
“I really hope that we start changing those attitudes and beliefs and that we start having discussions as young as possible about consent and respect, so that would-be perpetrators grow up from a really young age not even thinking that sexual assault is an option,” she said.