Ellen Bolger and Emily Leedham unofficially created the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club (CASE) in March of 2013, during a discussion about the lack of consent education within Calgarian public schools and universities. Prevention efforts around sexual assault had mostly been focused on preventing potential victims – with “safety tips” such as “Don’t walk alone at night”, “Don’t leave your drink unattended” and “Carry a whistle”. Such “tips” help to create a culture of victim blaming and fear, and do not address the root or reality of the problem: that someone in this scenario is trying (whether knowingly or unknowingly) to force unwanted sexual activity.
During CASE’s first year, they strove to change the discussion around sexual assault prevention to focus around potential perpetrators. One of the underlying premises of the work CASE does is that some individuals are genuinely confused about what constitutes consent and some individuals feign “confusion” when they find it convenient. If the public was sufficiently informed about what constitutes consent and did not believe in commonly held myths about sexual assault crimes, it would not be possible for a person to claim they were “unsure” about whether the other person consented to sexual activity. Instead, there would be the expectation that individuals would seek out enthusiastic consent before any sexual activity took place.
CASE first began with a small chalkboard campaign during Bermuda Shorts Day in April 2013, writing messages such as “Ask in Advance Before You Take Off Your Pants” and imitated memes with messages like “I don’t always hook up on BSD, but when I do, I always ask for consent”. Buttons and pamphlets outlining the rules in Canadian law surrounding sexual consent were given out with Students Union BSD materials.
Throughout the 2013/2014 school year CASE grew exponentially in size and scope, with several events and opportunities for members to engage in activism. CASE executives were interviewed on CBC Radio, Global News, Metro, and The Gauntlet.
CASE events included a “Healthy Relationships” Discussion Night, an art exhibition exploring different perspectives about consent, a film screening and panel discussion, and a student contingent for the Take Back the Night march. Additionally, an initiative was started in Residence, where students can discuss issues relating to their experiences in a way that is meaningful to them. In April of 2014, CASE won the Activist Club of the Year award from the Student’s Union.
Ellen Bolger has since left the University of Calgary to study law at the University of Saskatchewan, and hopes to do feminist legal research and activism. She is still very passionate about gender-based violence prevention and comprehensive sex education.
Emily Leedham is in her fourth year of English with a minor in Women’s Studies. She currently serves as WRC Liaison for the 2015/16 year, and was president during the 14/15 year.