As a member of the York University community, it is important to know that the University is committed to ensuring that all students, staff and Faculty have access to supports and services. York provides a wide variety of resources to create a healthy and safe campus, including Student Accessibility Services (SAS), Student Counselling & Development (SCD), the Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion (CHREI) and the Sexual Violence Response Office (SVRO). Today’s post will focus on the Sexual Violence Response Office to help you become familiar with this key health and safety resource. The SVRO is committed to preventing and responding to sexual violence.
If you or someone you know has experienced or is a survivor of sexual violence and in need of support, please call the Sexual Violence Response Office at 416-736-5211. This number is in effect 24/7.
What is the SVRO?
The Sexual Violence Response Office provides prevention initiatives and response and support services to sexual violence survivors. The SVRO coordinates support services and resources for all members of the York community that have experienced sexual violence, receives disclosures and complaints, facilitates safety planning and assists survivors through the complaint process. Wherever needed, the Sexual Violence Response Office advocates on behalf of survivors to ensure their needs are met at all times.
To help York students learn more about this resource, the YU Blog interviewed Debbie Hansen, Executive Director, Community Support & Services, Joanie Cameron Pritchett, Manager of the Sexual Violence Response Office and Jessica Thyriar, Education & Training Specialist. Watch the video below for their introduction to the Sexual Violence Response Office.
YU Blog: What programs and support services does the SVRO provide for York University students?
DH: “We do a lot with students: we trained more than 1,500 active bystanders since the summer of 2017 and work with student clubs. We also have a connection to the York Federation of Students and the Graduate Student Association.
The Sexual Violence Response Office has always done this work through student community relations. Now as a result of the Policy on Sexual Violence, it includes staff and Faculty as well: we support the York community. Our primary focus is creating awareness: to communicate with students about who we are, what we do and how we support survivors. The supports and services that SVRO offers can range, because it’s really up to the individual to indicate what their needs are. We work with community members continually: it’s a long-term, ongoing connection to ensure that we can continue to foster their success here.”
JT: “We are currently working on building a safer spaces toolkit. We have a group of students working with us to develop a module of how to create safer spaces on campus. In general, we start training before Orientation. We work with student leaders by practicing scenarios that teach them how to handle disclosures and we discuss our services with them. We have also developed some educational material about defining consent.”
JCP: “We connect students who come to our office to internal and external resources. Even if someone lives outside of the GTA and commutes to York, we can find them support services within their home community. Those services can include anything from traditional counselling services, art therapy, equine therapy, legal advice etc.
We aren’t just an office that serves the students when they need us at that point of crisis either: we’re also working on a preventative campaign. Our consent campaign focuses on building a culture of consent so we can talk about sexual violence, what is appropriate in our community and what is not and addressing the root of sexual violence.”
YU Blog: How can students, staff and Faculty learn more about the SVRO and participate in training and education programs offered by your team?
JT: “With regard to training and education, we’ve met with the first points of contact that most students would access, including counsellors, academic advisors and the Registrar’s Office. I think our approach is important: whenever we talk to anyone, we take the approach of being nonjudgmental. We don’t expect anyone to be an expert in this; we just want everyone to have the tools to refer someone in need to our office. We are also in the process of creating campaigns for student groups based on what works for their community and we can meet with students to let them know what the SVRO is and the services we offer. We went to the Clubs Town Hall hosted by the student union and met with all 300+ clubs to let them know that we can come to meetings, attend events and assist with planning beforehand.”
DH: “We work with staff and Faculty to bring awareness to the SVRO as well. We’ve been invited to classrooms to speak to students, to committee and department meetings, and we work closely with Marketing & Communications to ensure that people know what the SVRO is.”
JCP: “Most recently we’ve been asked to speak with University staff to help them understand what sexual violence is, how can we support them in their work and how can we collaborate.”
YU Blog: When should students, staff and faculty contact the SVRO?
DH: “Whenever they need to, or whenever they’re unsure of what they’re dealing with. Any time they need advice or someone has approached them, they can call our 24/7 number. There are no silly questions!”
JCP: “I would say that any time someone is curious about what we do or how we do it, reach out. Even if someone is at the receiving end of an accusation of sexual violence, we want them to know that they can reach out to our office and we can refer them to supports.”
JT: “When survivors are referred to our office, it’s because we want to help them make an informed decision. We want to be an advocate for them but also give them the information they need to make a decision for themselves. Self-determination is a keystone for us.”
YU Blog: What steps should community members take if they receive a disclosure of sexual violence?
JCP: “The first thing is to contact our office. If that means a phone call or even walking the person directly to our office, getting them to the right support and services is key. However, it’s important not to make any decisions for the survivor or ask them questions that you don’t need to know the answer to.”
DH: “You do have to assess the person’s immediate safety. If they are in a safe space, they can call us when they feel ready.”
JCP: “But if you don’t know or aren’t equipped to do a risk assessment like that, it’s ok to pick up the phone and say: ‘I’m not sure what to do here, but I have a colleague who needs some support. Can I send them to you or can I put my colleague on the phone?’ We would prefer that to someone trying to navigate these conversations without a real understanding of what they’re doing.”
YU Blog: What would you like York University students to know about the SVRO?
DH: “I would like students to know that we are here for them, that this is a safe space and that we have several individuals here who can support the community.”
JCP: “We’re here to serve the students in whatever way they need, and even if it’s in a way that we have yet to imagine, we’re ok with expanding the boundaries of how we’ve supported students historically. This is an evolving area and we need to support students in whatever way makes sense to that student. Intersectionality is really important to us. There could be a student who needs support in a way that we need to reach out to our partners and find a unique and creative way to support that student.”
JT: “We’re very open to feedback, so if people have comments or ideas, they are very welcome to bring them to us and collaborate. It’s about working with the community to build the SVRO with them.”
Connect with SVRO
As a student, it is important to understand that York University supports and advocates for your right to a safe and healthy campus. If you need support, you can contact SVRO 24/7 by calling 416-736-5211 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit the office in person at W128 Bennett Centre for Student Services during the week.
Connect with SVRO to learn more about their education and training initiatives by visiting their website at yorku.ca/svro.