Hearing about sexual assault is not easy, but knowing how to respond can be.

In most circumstances, survivors of sexual assault will tell their friends or family about the incident. With so many people opening up, knowing how to respond is increasingly important.

Sexual assault has become a topic of conversation ever since the New York Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story in October, accusing him of multiple counts of sexual harassment. Once one person came forward, more followed and soon, a flood of celebrities and politicians were being called out.

These stories were familiar to other survivors of sexual assault, and when actress Alyssa Milano used #metoo on Twitter, it went viral. Since then, millions of survivors have shared #metoo on their social media channels, highlighting how many people are affected.

“People are willing to listen to your story” – Jennifer Nebeling

“Survivors started thinking it’s not only in these powerful places and spaces these [assaults] are happening, but it’s also within my community,” said Cari Ionson, sexual violence response and awareness coordinator at Mount Royal University.

“It’s my gym teacher, it’s my friend, it’s all within our spaces and survivors are experiencing it throughout society and our culture.”  

When survivors start opening up about sexual assault, Ionson said letting them know they are supported is important. #IBelieveYou is a campaign that began in 2015, encouraging people to offer survivors of sexual assault resources and ongoing support.

Jennifer Nebeling is a survivor of sexual assault. She has experienced disclosing her sexual assault and knows it can be difficult to open up to family when they may not respond effectively.

“If you feel you’re uncomfortable coming out to anyone in your family, just know that there are others you can talk too,” said Nebeling.

“People are willing to listen to your story.”

Mount Royal University’s sexual violence response and awareness coordinator, Cari Ionson, is available to speak with anyone who needs to talk. Photo by Huyana Cyprien.Ionson is one of these people. Not only is she available to speak with survivors, but she also runs a workshop, Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Assault, that teaches people how to respond effectively.

“I really like to explore the prevalence and understand the roots of sexual violence within our society,” says Ionson.

“We talk about where sexual violence comes from in our society, how it’s experienced, some of the impacts of trauma and then how to respond effectively.”

The workshop is held in the fall and winter semesters at Mount Royal University and is open to everyone.

“My work and mission is not only making sure people know how to access me and that I’m accessible, but also to support our community in understanding how they can support their friends and community members too,” said Ionson.

Supporting family and friends who are survivors of sexual assault can be as easy as listening and telling them, ‘I believe you.’   

Then, Ionson said you should make sure “they are in control of who they get to tell, how they want to tell their story, and what they want to do with it moving forward.”

If you need to find someone to talk to, Mount Royal University has a counselor available. To make an appointment you can call 403.440.6362 or visit the Wellness Services Centre in room U216. You can also contact Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, a local agency providing education and crisis services by calling 403-237-5888.

hcyprien@calgaryjournal.com 

Edited by Amy Simpson | asimpson@calgaryjournal.ca