I first heard about AVP 20 years ago, when a co-worker told me about a study that estimated between 17-25% of women attending UVic would experience sexual assault during their time as a student. This study was what led to AVP (then OUR Sexual Assault Centre) being created.
That statistic has stayed with me ever since, and it was in part what led me to many years of doing anti-violence work. I spent hundreds of hours listening as the people in my life wept and raged about the ways that violence has impacted them, their families, our communities. I trained people who work at anti-violence agencies on issues around cultural competence, disability access, and trans inclusion. I supported sex workers to put out bad date sheets, spot for each other, and otherwise do the grassroots things that the street community has always done to look out for each other. I worked with men incarcerated for sexual violence, who wanted to understand why they had done what they’d done and to deeply transform.
I had a lot of pride at being a ‘successful’ survivor, someone who had overcome my past.
And still, it took me 20 years to work up the courage to actually walk into AVP, sit down, and say “I am a survivor, I can’t cope, and I need help.”
The way AVP staff and support volunteers met that disclosure has profoundly altered my life. And I’m not alone in that.
Recently AVP went through statistics collected since AVP first opened its doors in 1996. The results are incredible.
AVP staff and volunteers have provided over 600 support sessions, totaling 550 hours of support for people who have experienced violence, their loved ones, and people who have caused harm.
In the past four school years AVP staff and volunteers have led workshops and training intensives attended by more than 1,000 participants, giving people the skills to address consent in our everyday lives, and transform rape culture to cultures of consent and care. These education sessions have included train-the-trainer workshops to expand capacity for people on other campuses to develop their own sexual assault centres.
We still have so far to go. The statistics on sexual violence are still as shocking and heartbreaking as they were 20 years ago.
In Canada, 41% of all self-reported sexual assaults in 2014 were reported by students. A study of first-and second-year female students done that same year at 3 Canadian universities found that 58% had experienced sexualized violence.
We still have so much to learn. In my own life, this past year of volunteering with AVP has been an incredible, deeply humbling learning experience. I coped with my own trauma by obsessively focusing on developing what I thought was the perfect life. A few years ago I had a relapse of PTSD that broke apart everything in my life – my health, marriage, work, and support systems.
Volunteering with AVP I am learning as a beginner again how to do the most basic of things including trusting myself and the people around me, trusting that we can hold complexity and be messy, strong, vulnerable, imperfect, accountable, responsible.
I am learning from AVP staff and volunteers that we can be flexible and change plans when we need to, that we don’t have to work in ways that lead to exhaustion, burnout, and treating each other badly. We can slow down, we can say no, we can have hard conversations. We can mourn and rage about how violence has deeply impacted us, and also celebrate our resilience. We can listen and bring tissues and make food for each other and make fabulous, ridiculous glitterbomb unicorn art and poetry.
Volunteer training has taught me that we can talk about hard things like white supremacy, colonization, residential schools, transmisogyny, the impacts of war and forced displacement, poverty, lateral violence, ableism, ways to reduce risk and harm in our everyday lives. We can talk honestly about how violence has impacted our lives in ways that are not traumatizing for other people. We can develop the capacity and skills to be able to bear witness to painful stories and intense emotions. We can make mistakes, apologize, come to new understandings and agreements about how to be kind and respectful with each other’s pain and hurts.
AVP is not some fairytale organization; like any other organization it has challenges and struggles. But it is a real organization. It’s a place where people can be real about violence and find ways to work on it together. That’s what gives me hope, that all of these hundreds of AVP has supported, the thousand people AVP has trained, are out there creating their own positive ripples of impact, all of us working to transform our communities and bring about the deep healing so desperately needed.