Durham College supports survivors of sexual violence

At Durham College, the Sexual Violence Education and Prevention Coordinator ensures that students who have experienced sexual violence are supported and safe.

In advance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in May, we sat down with Marisa Mei (she/her) to talk about her role and work to support students as the Sexual Violence Education and Prevention Coordinator in DC’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (OEDI).

A 2009 graduate of the Police Foundations program, her interest in sexual violence education, prevention and support comes from her own lived experiences combined with bearing witness to the profound impacts sexual violence has on the survivor, their loved ones and the ripple affect it has on a community.

For members of the DC community who have experienced sexual violence, support and resources are available. Marisa spoke to us about the services DC and the OEDI offer, the importance of supporting survivors, and more.

What is sexual violence?

The definition DC uses (Durham College, Standard Definitions – March 2024) is any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, and includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.

Tell us about your experience in your field.

I have more than 13 years of experience in providing direct support to survivors of gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, domestic abuse and violence and sexual violence. I’ve also done a lot of public education work with youth and adults. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about.

How would you describe sexual violence?

Sexual violence is a form of gender-based violence that is rooted in gender inequality and injustice. It is a human rights issue. While anybody can experience sexual violence, women, girls and gender diverse people are at an increased risk (Source: National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence). According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), 30% of all women age 15 or older have reported experiencing sexual assault at least once, and two thirds (65%) of people in Canada know a woman who has experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Indigenous women and girls, racialized women, girls and gender diverse people, persons with disabilities, homeless or underhoused women are at an even higher risk due to additional discrimination and barriers they face (Source: CWF).

What is your role at DC?

My role at DC is to provide support, resources, and education awareness opportunities for our campus community on ways to prevent or reduce incidents of sexual violence or gender-based violence. If someone has concerns or questions about whether or not they are experiencing any form of gender-based violence, or has experienced sexual violence, our office can be a place of support. It is important for survivors to know that support is available to help to facilitate healing and recovery, and I can assist them in getting connected to those services.

How does DC support victims of sexual violence?

Durham College has a specific policy to address sexual violence. All members of the DC community have a right to work and study in an environment that is free from any form of sexual violence. The policy and procedure guides how sexual violence and rape culture are addressed through survivor support, awareness, education, training and prevention programs, the appropriate handling of complaints and disclosures of sexual violence incidents, and fostering and promoting a culture of consent.

How do you help survivors at DC?

We can be the first point of contact for someone to reach out and get immediate support. Students can come to our office and make informal reports of sexual violence. Survivors may come to us and share the experience that they have had, and I’m providing immediate emotional support, engaging in safety planning and assessing what other immediate needs the survivor may have. That may include exploring any personal and/or academic accommodations that they may require, or working alongside our Office of Campus Safety if there are any interim measures that need to be put in place to increase the survivor’s safety and well being. I also help students and survivors connect to any other supports or services that they may need to facilitate healing and recovery. Our on-campus resources include our Campus Health and Wellness Centre, physicians, nurses, mental health and wellness team. We also provide referrals to various organizations in our community that provide counseling and long term supports for survivors of sexual violence.

Are survivors required to speak to the Office of Campus Security or the police?

No. It is the survivor’s choice, and their choice alone, to determine if they want to take those next steps. When someone comes to our office and makes a disclosure, it is confidential.

What do survivors of sexual violence need to know?

If you are experiencing any form of gender-based or sexual violence, it is not your fault! Everyone has the right to healthy relationships that are free from all forms of abuse and violence. You deserve nothing less than healthy relationships that help you to feel loved, supported, empowered and encouraged, where you can be your authentic self and communicate openly and honestly without fear of judgement, harm and violence. Help is available and you don’t have to go it alone.

How can someone help a victim of sexual violence?

  1. Listen without judgement and believe them. Respect their choices as to what and how much they disclose about their experience.
  2. Validate their experience and feelings. Help them to know that what has happened to them is not their fault, and that sexual violence is never the responsibility of the survivor.
  3. Inform them of the resources and services available on- or off-campus including emergency medical care and counselling.
  4. Recognize that disclosing their experience can be traumatic and an individual’s ability to recall the events may be limited and/or lack clarity and consistency.
  5. Make every effort to respect their confidentiality and anonymity.

What does your role at DC mean to you?

Being the Sexual Violence Education and Prevention Coordinator at Durham College gives me the great privilege of working with both members of our campus community and external community partners who are all committed to finding solutions to ending all forms of gender-based violence. What I love most about my job is that I am entrusted by survivors who courageously share with me their lived experiences and that I get to be a small part of someone’s healing and recovery.

Durham College is committed to supporting survivors of sexual violence, and addressing and challenging the beliefs, values, systems and structures which support and perpetuate sexism and sexual violence.

Any member of our campus community who has been affected by sexual violence is encouraged to seek support and resources from the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (OEDI).

Survivors can make an informal report, which will provide access to supports and accommodations regardless of their choice to make a formal complaint/report to the Office of Campus Safety and/or the police. Informal reports can be made in confidence in-person to the OEDI in room C106 (Oshawa Campus, Gordon Willey Building, Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm), or room 1-8A (Whitby Campus, Main Building, Friday, 8:30- 4:30 pm) or by emailing SVsupport@durhamcollege.ca.

If you have immediate safety or medical concerns, please call 911 or Campus Safety and security at 905-721-2000 ext. 2400.