In Fredericton, members of the Sexual Violence New Brunswick organization are shooting a movie on sexual assault.
The NB Media Co-op interviewed Campus Sexual Assault Support Advocate Maggie Forsythe and movie director Tyler Giffin to talk about the movie production and why it is important.
NB Media Co-op: Can you introduce yourself?
Maggie Forsythe: My name is Maggie Forsythe, my pronouns are she and her, and I am the director of post-secondary sexual violence initiatives at Sexual Violence New Brunswick. My actual role is campus sexual assault support advocate on the tri-campus community. Sexual Violence New Brunswick has a contract agreement with the University of New Brunswick (UNB), St. Thomas University (STU) and the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) in Fredericton. We offer services to all three institutions.
My colleague Hilary Swan, who is also a counsellor, and I offer counselling and advocacy to those who have been impacted by sexual violence in their post-secondary education experience. We also do a lot of systems navigation, helping people if they want to file a former complaint through administration or getting safety concerns met, getting interim measures or informal resolutions set up for folks.
The other hat we wear includes prevention and awareness: we run campaigns and events on campus to build awareness around sexual violence. We offer education opportunities such as disclosure training for faculty and staff, adjudicator training for those processing sexual assault complaints on campus, bystander intervention training, and then we offer policy consultation. We have a well-rounded program through Sexual Violence New Brunswick that works will with the three institutions in Fredericton.
Tyler Giffin: My name is Tyler Giffin. I am producing and directing this project, as well helping write the script. I am a filmmaker here in Fredericton, and I work at UNB Media Services, and I’m originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Maggie Forsythe: This film has come out of our prevention and awareness activities; we have a tri-campus sexual violence prevention committee. We meet monthly and have folks from UNB, St. Thomas and NBCC who are interested and passionate about addressing sexual violence on campus. They include folks from the student unions, Residence Life, Human Rights, Student Intervention, the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre, or the International Students Office. They represent a lot of different places, and the film is actually something that came from a conversation at one of our meetings.
It is centered around a person who experienced an act of violence and then it shows her going through her help seeking journey and reaching out to different people in her life, whether that’s a friend, a roommate or, in the end, a professor. It shows all of the ways that people react poorly to survivors seeking help and then we rewind the story. We do it all over again showing all of the ways that a person could respond better to those situations.
NB Media Co-op: You talked about how sexual violence affects women, what about men?
Maggie Forsythe: Sexual violence predominantly occurs to women and gender minorities aged 18 to 24. Then if you add in layers of intersectionality, such as racialized, queer or trans identities, you have increasing vulnerabilities to violence and oppression. We’ve tossed lots of ideas around, wanting to make sure that people feel represented and that there’s a diversity of experiences. When it comes down to it, the short film is only a couple minutes long. How do you showcase a story that makes sense to the audience and people can see themselves within? We’ve received funding through the Ferguson Foundation and their focus is on intimate partner violence. We really wanted to show an act of violence that happens in an intimate relationship and this story happens between a woman and her partner.
NB Media Co-op: And what about the perspective of the assailant?
Maggie Forsythe: There’s been lots of work shopping around the script and we’ve actually got to a place of some pretty good nuance around the partner. We really wanted to show the nuance and the reality that an assailant is often so privileged that they don’t consider that what they’ve done is assault. Oftentimes, a person experiences something that is certainly assault or crossing of boundaries in a relationship but then there’s so many things going through in their mind: “Did I give them the wrong impression? Did I make them think that I wanted to do this? He is my partner, so it’s not really assault if it’s your partner and he didn’t mean to hurt me so like that means it’s not sexual assault.”
We are trying to tell a story that represents a person experiencing abuse and trying to heal through a lot of questions. In that regard, you also see the assailant or the partner also trying to process what’s happening. For example, in this scenario you have the partner texting them the next day saying, “Hey that was so fun, I’m so glad we did that last night, I can’t wait to see you, I love you” and then you see the survivor just feeling overwhelmed: “That’s not what I wanted.” Then the perpetrator or the assailant is popping by their house and is saying, “What’s going on? I can’t believe you haven’t spoken to me.” The survivor in our film is seen trying to contend with the perpetrator who is seemingly unaware of what they’ve done to their partner, who is also caught up in the feelings that they have for them.
When a person experiences an abuse by their partner, that often does not negate all of the love and feelings they have for them. They have been in a relationship and so it becomes really complicated, confusing, and messy, so you see that kind of complexity and nuance in the film as well.
NB Media Co-op: Can you describe the movie in a few words?
Maggie Forsythe: It’s a realistic portrayal of a person trying to navigate their healing after sexual violence and all the barriers that they face in seeking support. The video is full of nuances, nothing really screams in your face whether it is sexual assault or intimate partner violence. It is a way to talk to people about the ways that sexual violence happen in between the cracks of what we think sexual violence looks like. It works to deconstruct a lot of the myths and stereotypes people hold about what sexual violence is.
We really wanted to be purposeful; it’s about drawing a picture that people will be able to think “oh, I didn’t realize you could call that sexual violence.” Maybe people will feel like they can identify with something that happened and it could give them some validation because so much of our work is centered around helping people understand their feelings related to sexual violence. Often, we have people coming to us saying “I don’t know if I can really be here because I don’t think I can call it sexual assault, but this is what happened to me” and just being able to normalize and validate a person’s experience of sexual violence can be so powerful for a survivor in their healing. It’s an educational tool that Sexual Violence New Brunswick will use in their trainings, and we want it out there for people to learn from, experience and use in their own ways, to use it in their classrooms, to use it for their own campaigns in their own communities.
Maëlys Auclair is an exchange student from France who is studying at St. Thomas University. She is completing an internship with the NB Media Co-op as part of her Community-based Internship course.