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Starting the conversation on sexual violence

"Farrah Khan speaks to incoming students at Queen's about consent and sexual violence"
Farrah Khan speaks to incoming students at Queen's about consent and sexual violence during one of two presentations at the Athletics and Recreation Centre main gym on Monday, Sept. 4. (University Communications)

As Farrah Khan is speaking, the thousands of first-year students filling the main gym of the Athletics and Recreation Centre (ARC) Monday morning are listening.

An engaging speaker, Ms. Khan’s topic is one that is top of mind for many Queen’s University students – consent and sexual violence.

In what has become an important part of Orientation Week at Queen’s, incoming students learn about consent and sexual violence, both on campus and off, and participate in discussions about how these issues have already touched their lives.

In Canada, Ms. Khan highlights in her talk, 460,000 people are sexually assaulted each year, while social media has created a new dynamic for the issue.

Having these conversations out in the open is important, she explains.

“I think we don’t give young people enough credit. We assume that they are not hearing these conversations. We pretend that they shouldn’t hear about sex,” says Ms. Khan, co-chair of the Ontario Provincial Roundtable on Violence Against Women and a nationally-recognized public speaker and educator on violence against women. She adds that current research shows many younger Canadians are getting a lot of their information from online – and unreliable – sources.

“We are not creating healthy environments where they are having these conversations, not only about consent and sexual assault but also about pleasure, everything. We are failing as educators. So how can we do this better?”

During her talk, Ms. Khan discusses a number of topics – pleasure and communication, consent and bystander intervention, understanding what sexual violence looks like, and providing support to those who have experienced it. Throughout the talk she engages with her audience, getting volunteers to share their own experiences.

Having spoken at a number of universities, Ms. Khan says that while each school is different, she often hears the same questions from young men and women, as well as parents. The positive is that they are engaging in the conversation. It’s a first step.

“What I think is really important is that entering students who are hearing this conversation also have for the first time had comprehensive sexual health education in Ontario secondary schools,” Ms. Khan says. “Before we didn’t have comprehensive sexual health education, we had students coming in that had never heard the word consent in sexual health classes. So maybe we will have different conversations over the next couple years.”

Following the orientation presentations, Ms. Khan also took part in a question-and-answer session with members of the Queen’s community involved in addressing issues of gender-based violence on campus and working to prevent sexual violence at Queen’s.

More information about Farrah is available on her website.                               

Visit the Student Affairs website for more information about the services and resources on campus and in the community to support individuals who have experienced sexual violence, as well as the bystander intervention training that is available to all students .