Understand perspectives on:
- sexual assault
- survivor speech
- responses to sexual assault
- policy trust and distrust
- education and awareness
Perspectives on Sexual Assault
This theme presents understandings of sexual assault expressed or described by participants. In many instances, participants are critical of the perspectives they describe. The perspectives on sexual assault shared by participants included the following, and more:
- Ideas about what counts as sexual assault
- Ideas about who experiences sexual assault
- Ideas about what causes sexual assault
- Ideas about the effects of sexual assault
The theme Perspectives on Sexual Assault is important because it can inform how service providers and other supporters respond to victims/survivors. It can also provide a foundation for culturally responsive education & awareness strategies.
Perspectives on Survivor Speech
This theme consists of participants’ thoughts on “survivor speech.” Survivor speech refers to when a victim/survivor talks to another person, a group of people, or even an audience, about their experience of sexual violence.
Participants expressed a range of sometimes conflicting perspectives on survivor speech. Some examples of perspectives on survivor speech are:
- The idea that telling people about an experience of sexual violence is essential for the well-being of the victim/survivor or of the community
- The idea that telling people about an experience of sexual violence is risky for the well-being of the victim/survivor. One common reason for this view is the potential for negative reactions from family or community.
- The idea that telling people about an experience of sexual violence is courageous and commendable
The theme Perspectives on Survivor Speech is important because it can help us to understand whether, why, and in what contexts victims/survivors may want to talk about their experiences. The ideas gathered under this theme can also help us to understand sources of comfort or discomfort victims/survivors may feel in talking about what they have gone through.
Perspectives on Responses to Sexual Assault
This theme includes participants’ perspectives on the kinds of university responses to sexual violence that would be helpful, or unhelpful, appropriate, or inappropriate. Participants explored questions of who should respond to experiences of sexual violence and what these responses should consist of.
Examples of participant ideas about who should respond to sexual violence include:
- Roles and professions such as counsellors, religious leaders, friends, and family
- Characteristics such as belonging to the same culture, racial community, or gender as the victim/survivor; cultural competency, and knowledge or experience in this area
Examples of ideas about what responses to sexual violence should consist of include:
- Systems such as long-term mental health supports, and culturally representative peer networks
- Practices such as offers to contact family members, making sure that victims/survivors know which supports are free and confidential, and assuring victims/survivors that it’s not their fault.
The theme Perspectives on Responses to Sexual Assault is important because it provides direct insight into the range of supports seen as desirable by students from the cultural communities represented in our study.
Policy Trust & Distrust
This theme explores participants’ expressions of trust or distrust in their university SV/SA policies and services. Most of the transcript passages that fit this theme relate to distrust rather than trust.
- An example of policy trust would be an expression of gratitude that the university is protecting students with an excellent university SV/SA policy.
- An example of policy distrust would be an expression of suspicion that the university is more motivated to protect its reputation than the wellbeing of victims/survivors.
The theme Policy Trust & Distrust is important because distrust is likely to act as a barrier to policy and service use. Distrust may also add to the stress involved in accessing sexual assault policies and services. This theme allows those who create, promote, and administer university SV/SA policies to consider:
- Whether participant expressions of trust and distrust accurately reflect how their policies work
- What can be done to make their policies more worthy of trust and less worthy of distrust
- Where applicable, how the trustworthiness of their policies can be communicated to students
Perspectives on Education & Awareness
This theme encompasses participants’ reflections on how aware students are, and how aware they should be, of their university SV/SA policies and services. At the time of the focus groups, participants generally agreed that there was a low degree of awareness about these topics among students; but that there should be a high degree of awareness. Some suggested that students’ families should also have knowledge of university SV/SA policies and services.
In addition, the theme Perspectives on Education & Awareness includes participants’ suggestions for strategies to educate students about sexual consent, sexual violence, university SV/SA policies, and services for responding to sexual violence. Participants shared thoughts – both positive and negative – about educational strategies at their universities. They recommended educational strategies they believed could be effective if put into use.
This theme is important because it affirms, from a student perspective, the importance of education and awareness about university SV/SA policies and services. It provides a window into the strengths and weaknesses of some education and awareness strategies currently in existence. It also offers alternatives strategies in use.