In one of her first public appearances on campus, Liaison Officer (Harm Reduction) Bianca Tétrault led a workshop on the prevention of sexual violence through bystander intervention last Monday, as part of McGill’s annual Safety Week. Tétrault has occupied the position since its creation last March, following widespread condemnation of the University’s inaction in a highly publicized sexual assault case involving three Redmen football players.
Sparsely attended, the workshop drew a crowd of about twenty people – only a few of whom were students – and lasted a bit over an hour. Tétrault began by compelling the audience to engage with some common myths about sexual assault, before moving on to an introduction to the bystander intervention program. The program aims to help participants develop skills for preventing sexual assault and assisting survivors.
“I found [the workshop] incredibly informative because it addressed a lot of issues,” said U1 Linguistics student Munyaradzi Guramatunhu. “We started with the myths. So first of all, [the workshop] addresses how people are thinking, and then […] guides them to [what] they should be thinking. […] A lot of the time people know that things like this are happening, but they don’t know how to respond, so it wasn’t just telling you sexual assault is happening – it was actually giving you the tools of how you’re supposed to deal with that.”
Tétrault highlighted the importance of noticing situations where people perpetuate harmful beliefs about sexual violence, and encoraging them to think of the harm they are causing.
“It’s a self-reflection that we have to start asking ourselves internally, because the more and more we’re able to identify when that tends to happen around us day to day, the more we’re going to start realizing [the] uses [of bystander intervention],” she said.
Tétrault then showed the audience a video clip that recounted an instance of sexual assault, and illustrated how it could have been prevented by bystanders as the situation was developing. For Guramatunhu, however, the video did not depict the perpetrator’s reactions in a realistic manner.
“I think it was just in the video that the guy didn’t have a tendency to be violent,” said Guramatunhu. “I think that the presentation should have included the case – so, what do you do if the person you’re intervening with does get violent?”
As one of the few students in attendance, Guramatunhu expressed concern about the low turnout and suggested repeating the workshop at regular intervals. “[The turnout] was quite sad because it’s something that can happen to anyone, not just the ten people who actually bothered to pitch up,” Guramatunhu said. “So people should be more interested.”
Longer bystander program, consent campaign to come
In an interview with The Daily, Tétrault explained that she saw the workshop as a testing ground for a full two-day iteration of the bystander intervention program that will be run in the Winter semester.
“The original program is meant to be a lot longer: there’s case scenarios that people can engage in and practice what it means to be a bystander and how to identify certain situations. There’s a lot more talk around […] how a lot of harmful behaviours are normalized in our society,” said Tétrault. “I am going to be starting it hopefully just before Christmas with Athletics – their coaches and staff have agreed to undertake the program as well [as the athletes], because it’s for anybody in the community.”
In addition, a consent campaign, involving an art collage, a social media component, and various events on campus, is in the works; it will be held in October.
“The campaign is really to engage the community around consent and […] how to apply it in your life in regards to sexual activity and day-to-day interactions,” Tétrault told The Daily. “It’s not going to be an approach where we tell everybody what it is. We really want students to engage with us, to let us know how they practice it, how it feels, and what it means to them emotionally, consent.”
Guramatunhu was enthusiastic about Tétrault’s upcoming work. “If there was a way we could get everybody to come and sit and watch this, I think we should,” she said.