Island Health’s #TrustYourself social media campaign urges survivors of sexual assault to seek medical care. (Submitted photo)

How a group of concerned students inspired Vancouver Island to #TrustYourself

Island Health social media initiative urging survivors of sexual assault to seek medical care

High school students across the Qualicum School District (SD69) were the catalyst for a new Island Health initiative that encourages survivors of sexual assault to seek medical care.

After hearing from Grade 8-12 students in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, Aimee Falkenberg, co-ordinator of the forensic nurse examiner program for the central and north Island, said it was loud and clear that youth want to end the shame and stigma of reporting sexual assault and empower survivors to trust themselves.

Falkenberg presents to SD69 schools yearly about sexual violence and resources available for survivors. She took information brought forward by students to her manager with the goal of raising awareness about sexual assault. After 18 months of planning and collaboration with Island Health, the #TrustYourself campaign was born.

Related: Island Health encourages sexual assault survivors to #TrustYourself

Because many people do not report sexual assault, the social media campaign aims to encourage individuals to trust their body and inner voice and seek medical care after experiencing sexual violence.

“I was approached by a couple of [students] that had experienced sexual assault and felt as though one of the things that had maybe hindered them from coming forward was the shame and the stigma around sexual assault and maybe they were worried that they wouldn’t be believed or they would be viewed in a different way because they had a drink,” Falkenberg said. “I said you know what, you’re the voice of the future so what would you like to see around sexual violence to try and give people a voice and empower them to get help? They said they want more positive visual boards that encourage people to come forward.”

Falkenberg said the campaign aims to use real-life visions of people who experience sexual assault violence as opposed to a stereotypical image of a displaced woman. She said students said they would “really love to be able to see a new change if you were to Google sexual assault you don’t see the scared, sad, disempowered woman that’s in an alley that is obviously drunk wearing a short skirt.”

Trusting yourself, Falkenberg said, is the first step after experiencing sexual violence.

“Quite often patients that I see come in, they look at me and say, ‘but I took a drink, it might have been water…I think someone spiked my drink, I don’t remember anything but I feel like something is wrong, I feel like something has happened to me,’” she said. “I always turn to them and say trust yourself, trust your body, trust your instinct and go in and ask for help if you think something has happened.”

The campaign was launched at the end of October and has already garnered hundreds of online comments.

“It’s received really great feedback and I don’t know if these students have any idea how much of an impact they made just by coming up to me and telling me about their vision,” Falkenberg said. “They are the voice of the future and they do make a difference and I think it’s important that they know that.”

Falkenberg said it’s important for youth to know there’s forensic nurse examiners across Vancouver Island available to help sexual assault survivors.

“Basically every emergency department across Vancouver Island has a forensic nurse examiner, so we will see all ages, all genders up to seven days post-domestic violence and or sexual assault,” Falkenberg said. All they have to do is go into any emergency department and ask to speak to a forensic nurse examiner.”

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