Protecting yourself from sexual harassment and dating violence

(Creative Commons).

(Creative Commons).

Sexual harassment can happen within a relationship and it’s not always physical, students at a Ryerson harassment workshop heard Wednesday.

The conversation kicked off at Ryerson last year with the first workshop after the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Services (DHPS) noticed almost 30 per cent of the complaints it received dealt with sex in some way.

The discussion continued this year as Melissa Showler, a violence risk management specialist with Ryerson’s Security and Emergency Services, spoke with a group of about 20 students at the Sexual Harassment and Dating Violence workshop.

“This is a big issue and this is something we need to talk about,” Showler said, adding that people between the ages of 16 and 24 are the highest risk age category to experience sexual harassment.

But what exactly is sexual harassment and dating violence?

“It’s not just physical, it can also be that emotional piece,” Showler said. “Calling someone names – saying, ‘You’re a bitch, you’re a slut, you’re worthless, you’re nothing’ – that also counts as dating violence.”

It doesn’t end there.

“An important piece involves the sexual component,” Showler said, explaining that this includes forcing someone to go further sexually than what they’re comfortable with or not allowing someone to use protection.

And, she said, it’s happening here at Ryerson.

“My job does exists for a reason, and I am always busy,” Showler said.

While four out of five female undergraduates surveyed at Canadian universities said they’ve been victims of violence in a dating relationship, according to the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton Area (SACHA), Showler said women aren’t the only victims of sexual violence from a partner.

“It can happen to anyone,” she said, explaining both men and women, gay or straight, can be targets of unwelcome sexual advances.

Abusive partners can also use social media as a tool to gain control.

“Often times if it’s an abusive relationship, the abuser has passwords to this person’s Facebook, sometimes even to this person’s RAMSS, so they know their class schedule, they know their time table,” Showler said, and this allows the abuser to isolate their partner.

She discussed some of the warning signs of an abusive relationship – jealousy, control, aggression and manipulation – and encouraged students to speak to someone they trust if they recognize these traits in their partner.

A positive partnership, Showler said, includes give and take when the pair makes decisions together while maintaining mutual respect. Effective communication, she said, is essentially the key to a healthy relationship.

“If you can manage to have that calm, cool, level-headed discussion, that’s what you’re going to want,” she said. “The moment it starts to devolve into name-calling, the low blows, using that emotional blackmail, it’s not a conversation anymore.”

Showler said it’s important to be proactive in protecting oneself against sexual harassment or dating violence. “I always tell people to be confident,” she explained. “Be assertive and set those boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no.”

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