Role evolves to better support survivors

Adela Talbot // Western News

Tamara Will, who stepped into the role of Western’s Sexual Violence Prevention Education Coordinator earlier this month, will offer direct counseling services to survivors of sexual violence in addition to overseeing the provision of sexual violence educational initiatives on campus.

Western’s Sexual Violence Prevention Education Coordinator – a position created roughly two years ago to oversee the provision of supports and educational initiatives on campus – will now also offer direct counseling services to survivors of sexual violence.

Tamara Will, who stepped into the role earlier this month, holds a master’s degree in Social Work from King’s University College. Western’s former Campus Student Case Manager, Will comes to the position with previous sexual violence counseling experience, having worked with postsecondary student survivors in positions she held at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region and St. Joseph’s Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre in London.

“The role has now evolved to include a counselling support piece, which it didn’t have before. My focus will be a lot on direct support to students. It will be dividing time between the educational piece and the counseling support,” Will said.

Falling under the Student Experience portfolio, the Sexual Violence Prevention Education Coordinator’s mandate is to provide sexual violence-related supports for students, including risk assessment, safety planning, referrals, emotional supports and follow-ups, in addition to overseeing the provision of sexual violence educational initiatives on campus.

“When someone has experienced sexual violence, the thought of navigating resources can feel overwhelming. The Sexual Violence Prevention Education Coordinator office offers a central point of entry where survivors can receive support with accessing academic and other accommodations, safety planning, a detailed explanation of the options available to them – and counseling support. Students do not need to disclose their experience to me to access support,” Will explained.

Her primary concern is supporting the healing process for survivors of sexual violence and ensuring the supports offered are trauma-informed and centered on the individual. Survivors should have control over what happens during the healing process; Will aims to create a safe space in which students can make informed choices about the steps they wish to take.

“When somebody comes through the door, things can go in the healing direction from there. That’s the hardest part. Healing can be very slow and can be very different for people, and sometimes, it’s just starting to connect with things like going to the gym or starting to hang out with their friends again. There’s such a wonderful feeling that comes with seeing them start on that path,” she noted.

“Trying to focus on that healing process is what motivates me because it can be a hard role, for sure. I will be able to provide specific sexual violence-based support and focusing on the stabilization piece, helping to build on self-care and coping – things like that.”

In addition to the physical, emotional and psychological impacts of experiencing sexual violence, a survivor’s academic performance can also be negatively impacted, Will added. Sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating and struggling with motivation can all contribute to academic difficulties for students.

Prior to her arrival, the Sexual Violence Prevention Education Coordinator role focused more on organizing campuswide educational initiatives and training for staff, faculty and students. While these have been well-developed, Will knows the conversation surrounding sexual violence is not over.

“There’s a willingness to engage in the conversation and understanding that, as a community, whether it’s on campus or London or wider, we all have a role to play in ending sexual violence, whether that’s just speaking up when you hear a comment or intervening when you see something concerning. There’s recognition it isn’t all on women to prevent themselves from being sexually assaulted. That’s really encouraging. What I’ve seen with Western is, students want to engage in the conversation and be part of that upstander community,” Will said.

“With the current political climate, it can certainly feel discouraging, at times, when you feel you are making progress and steps forward with those conversations about healthy relationships, healthy masculinity, consent, inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. Now, to have those components removed (from the provincial primary school sexual education curriculum) is, unfortunately, a step backwards. But there are a lot of people who are strong voices, who will continue to have those conversations in alternate formats.”

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REACH OUT FOR HELP

Supports and services are available to any Western student who has experienced sexual violence, regardless of when or where it may have occurred. Students do not need to disclose details of their experience to access support.

Students who have experienced sexual violence can access immediate help on Western’s Safe Campus page. Tamara Will, Sexual Violence Prevention Education Coordinator, can be reached directly at svpec@uwo.ca.