Section 2: Considerations for Facilitators
Accessibility, Inclusion, and Safety
Accessibility typically refers to all the ways in which the training environment, delivery and participation options, and materials are designed to allow for people from a variety of backgrounds, abilities, and learning preferences to participate fully. Your institution will likely have policies, resources and supports related to accessibility that you can build on as you prepare to deliver training on sexual violence. Below is a list of strategies you may want to consider in order to make your training more accessible and inclusive.
- Are teaching and learning spaces physically accessible by those who use a wheelchair or other mobility aids? Are there chairs available that accommodate various body sizes?
- Are washrooms both physically accessible and designated as gender-neutral?
- If facilitating online, is the learning platform accessible to people using assistive technologies and a variety of devices?
Delivery and participation options
- During registration or sign-up, have you communicated what accessibility supports are available and asked whether learners have any accessibility requirements, e.g., “Is there something we can do to support your access and participation in this training?”
- Are a variety of learning methods being used? E.g., in an online workshop, methods such as asking questions, using breakout rooms, using the chatbox, reflective activities, polling or whiteboard features.
- If facilitating online, is captioning provided? Many web conferencing platforms have automatic captioning that can be turned on.
- When possible, is there support for child care or honoraria?
- If available, are learning materials provided in multiple formats and languages?
- Are you using plain language in your learning materials and delivery? (E.g., using a familiar term over the latest technological term, using several clear words or a familiar word instead of one complicated term such as “communication” instead of “discourse”)
- Do learning materials (e.g., images, statistics) include representation from learners of all backgrounds?
- Are learning materials available in digital formats that are accessible to people using assistive technologies? Do images have text descriptions? Often, these materials can be run through an accessibility checker (many word processing programs have these built in).
Community-based and campus-based anti-violence programs and initiatives have a long history of developing innovative and creative approaches to support learners of all backgrounds. This resource provides suggestions on how to facilitate activities both in-person and online. It also includes suggestions of additional activities that help to explore and increase understanding of issues related to sexual violence such as power and privilege; the impact of colonialism on sexual violence; and ideas about gender roles and how they influence people’s experiences of dating and relationships. Depending on the learner(s), many of these topics can be abstract and difficult to engage with through discussion-based activities or in a single workshop. We encourage you to make connections, in-person or online, with anti-violence organizations or to consult anti-violence resources and toolkits to develop creative approaches to delivering this training. Below are a few suggestions of creative approaches to education on sexual violence prevention and response.
- Digital or Paper Collage. Use images from popular culture, including films, books, TV, and music to explore stereotypes. Ask questions such as: Who are consistently the main characters? Who are the “heroes”? Who has power or who’s life and decisions are considered “important” and “valuable”? Explore ideas about what is considered “normal” and acceptable in our society and how this affects our attitudes and beliefs about issues such as sexual violence and consent and our roles in supporting change.
- Group “Sculpture.” Use objects and movement to help learners visualize power dynamics in society. For example, you could ask several learners to use a water bottle and chair to create a group “sculpture” in which one of the objects is seen to be more powerful and then ask the audience to respond and share what they saw.
- Guided Imagery. Read a story about the day-to-day experiences of a member of your community and ask learners to visualize themselves as that person. E.g., you could ask a cisgender man to imagine taking the bus to class from the perspective of a cisgender woman.
- “I can help create a safer campus” Bingo. Create a bingo game that includes suggestions of actions that individuals can take to support safer campuses. E.g., “I can not laugh at sexist jokes,” “I can give active consent when I want to have sex,” “I can say something when I hear disrespectful language.”
- “Take home” Readings and Viewings. Some groups of learners may benefit from having shorter sessions spread out over a period of days or weeks. This can create opportunities for take-home activities such as reading a graphic novel or watching a documentary or analyzing a spoken word video with a reflection component.
- Interactive Theatre or Improv. Scenario-based activities are an effective approach to learning skills related to preventing and responding to sexual violence. Interactive theatre and improv approaches can build on discussion-based approaches to scenarios. They can help learners gain experience “rehearsing” real-life situations as well as explore short- and long-term consequences. Techniques such as “hot-seating” can be a way of exploring the motivations behind the actors’ actions and develop empathy and compassion.
For sexual violence training to be successful, learners need to feel comfortable, safe, and respected. As you prepare to facilitate, you will want to consider factors such as when and where to hold the training, key messages on promotional materials, the use of group guidelines, ensuring diverse representation, using icebreakers, whether activities require self-disclosure, and ways of working with co-facilitators or guests. In this section, we discuss several strategies for helping to create a positive learning space.
Opening with intention
Facilitators have an enormous role to play in setting the “tone” for a session. As people enter the space (online or in-person), you can welcome them and help them get oriented. You can let them know if you’ve started or whether you’re waiting for a few more people and share “housekeeping information” such as where the bathrooms are, where they can put their things, or how to use online interactive features. If the training will include interactive or discussion-based activities, you may want to consider using an icebreaker activity to help people get to know each other ahead of time. As you begin your session, you can use opening questions that help create inclusivity such as correct pronouns, check-in questions, or information about accessibility needs and requests.
Community or group guidelines
Community or group guidelines are an activity that brings groups together to decide how they will interact and support each other. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes. If you are facilitating a short training (e.g., a one-hour lunch time session) or a training in which learners may not be interacting extensively with each other, creating community guidelines may not make sense. Instead, you might ask learners to agree to a list of guidelines or a code of conduct when they register or sign-up for the training. Or, you might share a list of guidelines at the beginning of the training and ask learners if they feel comfortable with them and/or if they have something they would like to add or change.
For longer sessions (e.g., a three-hour workshop) or for training that involves multiple sessions over a period of time, community guidelines can be an important tool for supporting safer discussion about difficult topics. You can remind learners of the guidelines if the discussion is getting difficult or at the beginning of each session. Important group agreements relate to listening to and showing respect for others (e.g., not talking when others are speaking, not making rude comments, or not talking on the phone), confidentiality, and participation.
Community guidelines come in all shapes and sizes. Some groups have a few guidelines while others have many. Often, groups will change or add guidelines as needs and ways of working together evolve. Here are suggestions of possible guidelines.
- Share the learning, not the names or the stories (confidentiality)
- Participants have the right to “pass” on activities/questions that feel uncomfortable
- It is all right to feel uncomfortable or not to know answers to everything
- Treat others with respect
- Be mindful of your language; respect everyone’s names and pronouns
- Remember that survivors of sexual violence may be present
- Speak for yourself. Use “I statements” to state opinions or feelings
- Seek to replace judgment with curiosity
- Take care of yourself
- Take space, make space (allow everyone a chance to participate)
Content warnings (also called trigger warnings) are a statement made prior to sharing potentially difficult or challenging material. The intent of content warnings is to provide learners with the opportunity to prepare themselves emotionally for engaging with the topic or to make a choice to not participate.
Different departments and institutions will have different approaches to content warnings and this may guide your decision about including content warnings on registration or sign-up forms, in learning materials, and in the learning environment. Below is an example of a content warning:
“We will be discussing topics related to sexual violence in this training. During the training, you can choose not to participate in certain activities or discussion and can leave the room at any time. If you feel upset or overwhelmed, please know that there are resources to support you.”
There are a number of other facilitation strategies you may want to consider in addition to or instead of a content warning:
- When discussing difficult content, check in with learners from time to time. Ask them how they are doing, whether they need a break, etc. Let them know that you are aware that the content is difficult.
- Ask people to be mindful of their fellow learners during the discussion and remind them that survivors of sexual violence are present in the room (regardless of whether this information has been shared with others).
- If you are meeting regularly with a group of learners over time, you can give them advance notice (e.g., two weeks) about potentially difficult content.
- You can “scaffold” your learning process/materials so that you do not start with the most difficult content at the beginning of your training or you can make connections to other resources and training on sexual violence. In some learning contexts, you may be able to let students move through content at their own pace.
- Consider how graphic or “strong” your language is. Sometimes, we may use strong language to make a point or emphasize the seriousness of an issue. Ask yourself whether this is necessary and what alternatives might be equally effective at communicating your message while reducing the probability of activating someone’s trauma.
Inclusive language is important and helps avoid making assumptions about others. As a facilitator, you will want to use language that is inclusive of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, sex assigned at birth, and marital or romantic status.
Because your audience is likely to be diverse, it’s important to be respectful of the many ways they experience gender, attraction, and relationships. Choose examples, scenarios, statistics, and images that are non-gendered or inclusive of LGBTQ2SIA+ people and relationships. Sexual violence is not exclusive; it can happen to and be perpetuated by people of diverse genders, sexes, and attractions.
If you are speaking in general terms, take care to choose terms like “intimate partner or partners” instead of “husband,” “wife,” “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” If you are referring to a specific person’s intimate partner, use the same language they use. If a person refers to their intimate partner as their “spouse” or “wife,” you should use the word they do instead of referring to their “partner.”
Likewise, addressing learners using inclusive language will ensure a sense of safety for learners. For example, “Good afternoon, everyone,” “Hello, folks,” and “Have a good break, human beings” are inclusive of transgender, non-binary, Two Spirit, and gender diverse people while “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen” is exclusive. Similarly, avoid everyday gendered language (e.g. man hours, spokesman, and waitress should be replaced with work hours, spokesperson/speaker, and server) or historically oppressive turns of phrases such as “rule of thumb.” Try using language such as “someone of another gender” and “people of all genders” rather than “the opposite sex” or “both genders.”
Be careful to address or refer to people with similar titles in similar ways, regardless of their gender identity. If you refer to a cisgender male professor as “Dr. Last Name,” as a default, refer to all professors as “Dr. Last Name.”
Don’t assume pronouns, sexual orientation (attraction) or gender identity based on someone’s name or appearance. Invite all learners, guests, and co-facilitators to indicate their pronouns and their preferred name on their nametag or in their online display names, if they feel safe doing so. Explain that sharing our pronouns is a way to act in solidarity with some people who are gender diverse, transgender, non-binary, and Two Spirit people, but that, ultimately, it is a way to be inclusive of all people.
Examples of gender inclusive language:
Experiences of trauma and violence are common in our society. Many people participating in sexual violence training will have experiences of past or current trauma and many facilitators will have experiences of trauma themselves. There are a number of strategies you can use to help create a “trauma aware” learning space.
- At the beginning of the training, acknowledge that the topics you will be discussing are difficult and let learners know that they have the right and freedom to take care of themselves in a way that works for them. In particular, let learners know that they can leave the room or choose not to participate in an activity. You could say something like “If at any time you feel you need to leave, that’s fine with me. You are empowered to take care of yourself.” You can also let learners know that reactions to difficult material can sometimes be delayed and that they may wish to connect with you a few days after the training or to access support from family, friends, or other people in their lives.
- If you do notice that someone has left the group and you suspect that they were reminded of previous trauma by the session, follow-up with them one-one-one after the session to check-in and offer them any resources that you think might be helpful to them.
- During the training, if the conversation becomes “intense” or you believe that a number of learners have become overwhelmed or affected by the discussion, it can be helpful to take a break or use an activity that involves the body or movement to help people re-connect to the present moment.
- Sometimes, during training on sexual violence, learners may realize that they have experienced things that are defined as violence. BEFORE you start facilitating in this area, you will want to ensure that you are knowledgeable about receiving disclosures and how to support trauma survivors as well as available supports and resources on campus and in the community. Some institutions have developed practices such as expedited counselling for learners who might need support after a training session or making intensive crisis supports available for a short-time after a training or particular initiative.
- Similarly, some learners may realize that they have done things to others that would be identified as violent. You may need to provide them with some initial support before referring them to available resources and services.
- Let learners know that you will be available after the training if they would like to debrief or share their responses to the session or how they are feeling. If possible, schedule at least 30 minutes after a session so that you can be available to your learners. If you are delivering training in an online context, you can let learners know that they can private message/email you.
- If you feel comfortable, you can share information about grounding activities or a link to a resource. Grounding activities are simple activities that can help people to relax, stay present, and re-connect to the “here and now” following a trauma response. Examples include pressing or “rooting” your feet into the ground, breathing slowly in and out for a count of 2, repeating a statement such as “I am safe now. I can relax,” or using your five senses to describe the environment in detail.
- If you are concerned about a learner, ask them if they would find it helpful for you to “check in” with them later in the day or the following day. You could also ask them if they have a friend or family member that they might find it helpful for them to speak with following the training. If so, help them make a plan to connect with them, e.g., via phone or text or in-person or at a certain time.
A note on language
People who have experienced trauma may describe themselves as a “victim” or “survivor” or “victim/survivor” of trauma. These words have their own history and meanings. Language is imperfect and constantly evolving and there is no one best or “correct” word. Do your best to use the term that people prefer whether that be “victim” or “survivor” or something else entirely and don’t be afraid to respectfully ask if you are unsure.
The following list may help you in recognizing and responding to ‘in-the-moment’ trauma responses.
- Change in breathing (breathing quickly or holding breath)
- Muscle stiffness, difficulty relaxing
- Flood of strong emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, etc.)
- Rapid heart rate
- Startle response, flinching
- Staring into the distance
- Becoming disconnected from present conversation, losing focus
- Inability to concentrate or respond to instructions
- Inability to speak
(BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, 2013)
As a facilitator, you will want to ensure that you are knowledgeable and prepared to address the distinct and specific needs of multicultural and diverse communities. International students are one group that you may want to consider. They may be at significant increased risk of being targeted for sexual violence, due to multiple barriers they face including lower levels of English language fluency, a lack of understanding of criminal law in Canada, cultural views of sexual violence, discrimination, racism, a need to adjust to local culture and limited local support systems (Forbes-Mewett and McCulloch, 2016). Furthermore, they may not understand the legal definitions of sexual violence and what consent means, and where to find help.
It is important to highlight that international students are not weak or vulnerable; rather they are quite resilient and determined to thrive and make Canada their home. It takes positive determination to leave the safety of family, financial stability and social network. However, once here, they may face the additional challenges from within their own ethno-specific community while also experiencing homesickness, loneliness and helplessness as part of their acculturation into Canadian society.
As a facilitator, there are a number of strategies you can take to ensure the inclusion and participation of international students:
- Consider language barriers. Using plain language or translated materials and slow down the pace as you go through complex material.
- Learn about translated sexual violence resources and community supports that include services in diverse languages.
- Provide opportunities for participation while also considering safety. Be aware that some female international students may not be comfortable speaking about topics related to sexual violence if other male students are present.
- Be aware of community resources and supports available to international students so that you can share them with learners either verbally or in written form (or both).
- Consider collaborating with community organizations such as MOSAIC so that a support worker can be available to international students, if needed.
“Challenges Faced by International Students” image description
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International students have to navigate a new country on their own and face unique barriers and complexities compared to domestic students, especially when it comes to sexual violence.
- General lack of knowledge of Canadian laws & rights.
- Unaware of laws around sexual assault/harassment/consent
- Work exploitation by employer
- Exploitation by landlords
- Misperception of consent & sexual assault & barriers to reporting.
- Lack of knowledge of reporting options
- Cultural/language barriers make it difficult to identify sexual assault
- Lack of knowledge of available medical services/community resources
- Fear of deportation and the police.
- Leads to lack of reporting
- More likely to be threatened with deportation by employers/landlords
- Process of acculturation/language/cultural barriers.
- Language barriers create obstacles in seeking support
- Cultural differences create difficulties in receiving appropriate support
- Pressure to assimilate to Canadian culture
- Racism, homophobia, transphobia, and racial profiling.
- Lack of trust with law/police
- Victims of hate crimes
- Lack of friends or a support network. Isolation and homesickness/struggling with independency.
- Social exclusion from mainstream Canadian society
- Isolated from campus community
- Stress/loneliness of moving to another country
- Don’t know where to go for support
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