National Consent Awareness Week: Reflections from a UASAC Volunteer

Shelby Henry discusses her experiences providing volunteer support at the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre.


SAC Sign (SUB 2-705)

The third week of September marks National Consent Awareness Week - a time to raise awareness about sexual violence, to inform and educate people about the practice of consent, and to remind people who have experienced sexual violence that they are not alone in their experiences. To better understand the resources available to us on campus here at the U of A, we reached out to Shelby Henry, who has volunteered at the Sexual Assault Centre (UASAC) during her time studying at the U of A, and asked her some questions about her time there. Here is what she had to say:

1. What was your experience like volunteering with the U of A’s Sexual Assault Centre? 

My experience at UASAC was one of the most transformational and impactful experiences in my life, and I don't mean to exaggerate, that is genuinely how I feel. I first encountered the Centre when I was in my 3rd year undergrad and was struggling to cope through my own lived experiences with sexual violence and intimate partner violence. I received psychological support from the Centre for almost two years and was able to start on a path towards healing that gave my life direction. I felt indebted to the Centre and the amazing people that worked within it, which is the main reason that I decided to become a volunteer. 

I ended up completing three years as a crisis intervention volunteer, which provided me the privilege to support individuals that walked into the Centre needing resources, information and those in crisis - much like myself years before. 

In this time, I worked with a diverse group of the most empathetic, compassionate and genuine human beings I had ever met. Not only was this role very rewarding, for me, it was also incredibly healing to be able to support the walk-in clients in crisis. The individuals I provided support for have left an imprint on my heart that will never fade. At times it was emotionally challenging and at one point I needed to take a brief step back to focus on my well-being, and the staff were nothing but supportive every step of the way. 

2. Looking back on your volunteer experience at the U of A’s Sexual Assault Centre, what did you enjoy most? Or, what are you most proud of?

As I mentioned before, supporting individuals in crisis was almost cathartic for me. I felt such a strong connection to so many of the people that I was supporting. After every session, we do a debrief with the staff to ensure that we are doing okay and that gives us the opportunity to be supported as well. In these sessions I always felt such a flurry of emotions and more often than not I would cry - sometimes in grief for the person's story I had heard, but mostly because of how much gratitude I felt for having the privilege to be a part of their healing journeys and appreciative that I had myself healed to the point that I could help others do the same. I was constantly being shown how exceptionally resilient humans can be.

I enjoyed that I was surrounded by a group of amazing individuals that consistently challenged me to grow; I knew I had a wealth of support behind me whenever I would need it.

3. What was the training like and what part of your training did you find the most beneficial?

The training was quite extensive, understandably so. All volunteers would complete 60 hours of crisis intervention training which provided us with the tools to support those in crisis, education on resources available, and skills to discuss options in a non-judgmental way. Each year, return volunteers were required to repeat the training, which was very helpful to review this important information and practice/improve previously developed skills, as well as support the new incoming volunteers. 

I think the most beneficial part of training would be the development of my support skills. These are skills that I am able to use everyday with friends, family, as well as patients I interact with as a medical student. I had a recent experience where a close friend of mine called me in the middle of the night in crisis. I was able to use the skills that I had developed over the years of volunteering and training and felt confident and prepared to support my friend in his moment of need.

4. Based on your volunteer experience with UASAC, what are some resources that you’d recommend to anyone interested in helping to promote a culture of consent?

First, I would recommend the UASAC website, which houses a ton of excellent information (handouts and videos) for both survivors and supporters. Educating yourself on sexual violence, trauma, how to respond to disclosures, and how to support someone in crisis is a great step to take. 

5. What is one thing you’d like to make sure our community knows about consent?

I think the most important thing about consent to remember is that it is not the absence of a no, it is an enthusiastic YES! 

Consent spans across all aspects of life. The more we normalize talking about consent with our family, friends, and other people we interact with, the more natural it will become. 

6. What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering for the U of A’s Sexual Assault Centre? What are your top three things you’d want them to know?

You will develop life long support skills that are invaluable and will help you grow as a person. 

You will meet incredible people that are doing incredible things, the impact of your experience will stick with you. 

People should also know how emotionally involved volunteering at the Centre is. The training can feel very draining because the content is very emotionally heavy. Volunteering shifts can vary depending on who you end up supporting, but you can rest assured that the staff will ALWAYS support you whenever you need it. It's a big commitment, but if it's something you are passionate about then you will find it to be an exceptionally rewarding experience.


About Sara

Sara is in the final year of her undergrad in Honors History. Her favourite topic to study is the history of medicine, and she dreams of working in museums one day. Sara loves to catch the latest movie releases, and can never leave a bookstore empty handed. She has 4 cats, a large collection of begrudging plants, and an affinity for Greek mythology.