Poet to voice violence woes with teens

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With requests for help skyrocketing and statistics showing high rates of incidents among teens, a city agency has tapped a London poet to help end sexual violence in schools.

Requests for counselling for sexual violence have quadrupled over the past year, and calls on a sexual violence helpline have tripled since February, said Jane McGregor, director of community programs at Anova, formerly the Sexual Assault Centre of London and Women’s Community House.

She credits a snowballing awareness of the issue, fed in part by criminal cases against celebrities the past few years and the Globe and Mail’s Unfounded series about sexual violence this year, for the increase in calls for help.

At the same time, statistics show that the highest rate of sexual violence for females occurs at 15, she said.

Statistics Canada reports that 36 per cent of boys and 46 per cent of girls in Grade 9 report experiencing unwanted sexual comments, jokes and gestures.

But getting teens to talk about the issues of violence and consent involves more than opening the doors of an agency or staffing a phone line, McGregor said.

“This is a different pathway,” she said of a novel program set for at area schools.

With a $30,000 grant from the Ontario Arts Council, Anova and Londoner Holly Painter will use spoken word to engage Grade 10 students in discussions about consent and sexual violence.

Painter uses the phrase, spoken word, on purpose. The idea of writing poetry doesn’t appeal to all teenagers, but rap and other forms of creating with words do, Painter said.

Painter has spent two years as the safe schools artist-in-residence with the Thames Valley District School Board and figures she’s worked with tens of thousands of teens.

“They are given permission to be creative and vulnerable and share their feelings in ways they normally don’t get to so,” Painter said. “I’ve seen it over and over and over again.”

Common themes from teens’ work include mental illness, bullying and sexual violence and consent.

This new effort will focus on sexual violence and helping create a “consent culture” at schools, Painter said.

The program is expected to last a year and reach 125 students, who can then spread the message through videos of their work and their own presentations, Painter said.



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