The Health and Counselling Centre held an open house for the grand opening of the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre last Monday, November 6th.

The centre has two main mandates: providing support to individuals who have experienced any form of sexual violence and educating the community on prevention to sexual violence.

The centre’s main coordinator, Paula Lam, described sexual violence as a “really broad term that is used to refer to any form of physical or psychological harm that is caused by targeting someone’s sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression.” Such examples of sexual violence include sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, and intimate partner violence.

“People can come and see me and we can discuss different options, whether they want to report, we can go through the options of reporting to police, or reporting to the university,” Lam stated, “We can also look at coping strategies, self-care strategies, helping identify needs and exploring options, really taking that survivor-centric approach to the work in figuring out what it is that they’re looking for and how can we support them.”

The open house featured guest speaker, Samra Zafar, who arrived in Canada as a child bride in a forced marriage. Zafar said that through the support she found through weekly therapy sessions at UTM, she was able to overcome these obstacles.

“The biggest barrier to getting out or healing from any kind of trauma, or any kind of abuse, is fear of loneliness, lack of support, shame, and stigma. That human connection, and support without judgement, is priceless. You cannot put a price tag on it, because that is what people need to heal and succeed from any kind of trauma,” she said, “It breaks my heart that there are thousands of lives in Canada, even locally here, that are impacted. People that are held back from reaching their full potential because they are shamed into believing that is somehow their fault. They feel lonely because they can’t reach out for that support or connection.”

Zafar ended her speech by stressing the importance of support.

“What we exist in this world for is human connection. If we can help each other in some way, even the smallest action on your part can have a profound impact on someone else’s life. It is essential to create that safe space and tell people that they don’t deserve to be treated with anything less than a 100% love and respect for any reason, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or anything else. We all deserve that respect and love.”

UTM’s principal Ulrich Krull also spoke during the event about the idea of respect and being able to prevent sexual violence through education.

“This is really the time to learn how to socialize and learn what respect is all about. It is not something that is taught, but is something that is assimilated over time. Sexual violence is happening right now,” Krull said, “It’s happening to our students, to our faculty and staff in some cases right on this campus, right now. This idea with having prevention is something that I believe is essential.”

The Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre is located in the William G. Davis building, room 3094G.