Sexual assault centre a national leader

Clothesline project. Photo: Beth Doman

Anti-Violence Project offers broad range of services

By Vivian Kereki

The Anti-Violence Project (AVP), in the Student Union Building, is leading the way for sexual assault centres across the country. “There is no one quite like us in Canada,” says AVP co-coordinator Elizabeth Morrison. “We often have other centres contacting us, asking what we’re doing now.”

How has AVP built its glowing reputation among colleagues? The answer lies in the centre’s two sets of services, developed over the years since its inception in 1996. Not only does AVP offer free drop-in services for survivors of sexualized violence, it is also extremely active in outreach, education and advocacy.

As a drop-in centre, AVP is commonly a first stop for people. “It’s a place where you can share your experience, have someone really listen to you, then help choose a plan of action to further your healing,” explains Morrison. AVP is proud of its non-formal counselling environment where staff, practicum students and volunteers (who each receive 40 hours of counselling skills training) offer free, peer-based counselling services. AVP has a surplus of connections and networks to community resources and can offer referrals for counselling, health and legal services.

Tucked away in the basement of the SUB, the AVP has couches and friendly, non-judgmental staff ready to help drop-in clients. But the spot is a double-edged sword for AVP: while the inconspicuous location is beneficial for creating a safe, confidential atmosphere, it is also easy to miss. Though a large number of UVic students, staff and community members use the centre, Morrison feels it is still under-utilized. “People don’t know we’re here,” she comments. “We’re trying to change that.”

Assessing how many people are affected by sexualized violence is difficult. According to statistics, rates have been steady for the last 30 years. Statistics Canada’s most recent report states one in three women and one in five men will experience sexualized violence at some point in their lifetime. However, only one in 100 people actually report their experience, perhaps because most experience sexualized violence with people they know, not strangers, as the media often portray.

What is certain is that the age group that’s most at risk is 18–26-year-olds—the majority of UVic’s student population. Instead of dissecting numbers, AVP chooses to concentrate on education. “We know sexualized violence is happening, but it can be prevented if people have the skills,” says Morrison.

The centre offers a menu of workshops throughout the year. The AVP team—a passionate group consisting of three staff (all UVic graduates), 16 volunteers and three practicum students—regularly sits down to brainstorm potential workshop topics such as healthy relationships, consent, fun sex education, communication skills and myth-busting. “Myth-busting is one of our favourite workshops,” says Morrison. “We break down the facts and social myths we hold on who gets assaulted, where, and when.”

Upcoming AVP advocacy events include an April 6 showing of the film Polytechnique (recently nominated for 11 Genie Awards)—the third in their three-film series at Cinecenta called “Defy, Revive, Remember,” (complete with speakers and conversations following the screenings); a participatory art campaign; and their yearly clothesline project on International Women’s Day (March 8) between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in front of the McPherson Library. The project is a display of over 1,000 T-shirts painted by UVic students and staff that are statements of their experiences with sexualized violence.

“We really believe in using art, music, theatre and film as a way to help people think through these issues because they’re so complicated and difficult to process,” says Morrison.

More about AVP and upcoming events:, call 250-472-4388, or drop in SUB B027

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