Feb. 28, 2019

Do the words you use and the way you behave support sexual violence?

March 4 workshop deconstructs root causes of sexual violence and teaches strategies to disrupt
In partnership with Carla Bertsch, UCalgary's sexual violence support advocate, Kevin Vowles deconstructs what sexual violence is, what causes it, and how to address it in daily life through interactive workshop on March 4.

Kevin Vowles deconstructs what sexual violence is, what causes it, and how to address it.

Kelly Wood

Thanks to campaigns like #MeToo, we are increasingly aware of issues regarding sexual violence, yet there’s still a lot of uncertainty and confusion surrounding the topic. For Kevin Vowles, the clear path ahead is twofold: education and emotional intelligence.

“It might not be the intention of a young man to commit sexual violence, but they may do just that without even seeing how their actions are wrong,” Vowles says. “Digging into gender norms, having conversations about consent and building emotional intelligence sets the bar higher.”

With a career centred on addressing gender-based violence, Vowles' 15-year journey as a sexual violence educator began as a personal one.

“I experienced and witnessed a great deal of violence in my own life growing up. In my 20s, I started to really understand the impacts of inter-generational trauma and sexual violence, and began to take an interest in trying to end the cycle of violence,” Vowles explains.

“Gender expectations are a big factor in violence against both men and women. I was socially isolated before going into high school and I lost a lot of friends because I wasn’t interested in unhealthy gender norms and wasn’t fitting in. Later in my life it helped me recognize the devastating impacts toxic masculinity can have on young men and how it can lead to self-harm, addiction and suicide, and may even go on to shape their future relational lives.”

Workshop digs into complexities of sexual violence and paves pathway forward

On March 4, in partnership with UCalgary’s sexual violence support advocate Carla Bertsch, Vowles’ interactive workshop Deconstructing and Moving Past Sexualized Violence will take a deeper look at the root causes of sexual violence. In addition to unravelling the complexities of gender norms and the problems posed by the bro-code, the pair will also offer strategies to address gender-based violence in our daily lives.

“The first thing we all need to do is engage in emotional intelligence,” Vowles says. “When I ask what emotion men are allowed to express, the answer is always anger. If that’s men’s default emotion, of course we see violence. If we can shift that pattern over to expressing emotions in a productive way, there’s potential to decrease violence and improve the health of relationships.”

In addition to advocating for any students, faculty and staff who have experienced sexual violence, a key aspect of Bertsch’s role is to educate the campus community and start meaningful dialogue about sexual violence, prevention, consent, gender equity and socialization.

“My work includes drawing attention to harmful attitudes, values and behaviours that support systems of oppression. Even though they may be less visible in our daily lives and are often perceived as normal, like gender roles, they help maintain systemic issues like sexism, racism and homophobia,” Bertsch says.

“By educating our community through an intersectional lens, I hope to provide people with the tools they need to step in and disrupt more subtle acts of violence, within ourselves and others, whether that’s the words we use, the jokes we tell or how we treat others, so we can prevent more serious acts of violence from occurring. Kevin brings a lot of valuable insight to the conversation and I’m excited to be collaborating on such an important initiative.”

This workshop is a partnership between the Office of Diversity, Equity and Protected Disclosure and Ask First. Ask First is a three-year project launched in Fall 2015 by the Women’s Resource Centre in collaboration with the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club. The project is funded by SU Quality Money.