May 23, 2019

Leading expert in addressing sexual violence moderates UCalgary panel on May 24

Deb Tomlinson joins post-secondary collaboration for Sexual Violence Awareness Month
Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, brings more than three decades of experience to panel event at UCalgary on May 24.

Deb Tomlinson, CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services.

Deb Tomlinson

UCalgary alumna Deb Tomlinson has become one of Alberta’s leading experts in addressing sexual violence over the past three decades, from on-the-ground work like counselling education and crisis response to leading province-wide initiatives, including the #IBelieveYou campaign and the recent launch of One Line, a new service for sexual violence support. 

On May 24, the CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) will be sharing her expertise as the moderator for Standing in Solidarity, a panel conversation about addressing sexual violence in post-secondary institutions.

Hosted at UCalgary, the panel brings together sexual violence experts from across the city, including Carla Bertsch, sexual violence support advocate at UCalgary; Cari Ionson, sexual violence response and awareness co-ordinator for Mount Royal University; and Erin Kordich, sexual violence support and education liaison from Bow Valley College.

“This event is an opportunity to talk about the issue of sexual violence. It’s been hidden in the shadows of secrecy and shame, so speaking publicly is an important change,” says Tomlinson.

“Survivors are watching and listening. When they see a conversation happening on campus in support of survivors, that makes a difference. It sends the message that we believe them, it’s not their fault, they can reach out for support, and there are services available.”

According to Tomlinson, it’s important for post-secondary institutions to work alongside local agencies like Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, a member agency of AASAS, to take leadership roles in addressing sexual violence. Not only are universities sources of education, but, as Tomlinson points out, the largest at-risk demographic for sexual assault can usually be found on campus.

“Sexual assault affects all ages, gender identities and backgrounds, but the highest at-risk group in Canada are females aged 16 to 24 — a major demographic at post-secondary institutions,” she says.

One in three female-identifying individuals and one in six male-identifying individuals will experience sexual assault in Canada, statistics that are exacerbated by factors including race, Indigeneity, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, age and ability. For Tomlinson, bringing conversations about sexual violence to campus is an important step in educating students on the severity and commonality of the crime while heightening awareness.

“Students are the leaders of our future, the educators of our future and the parents of our future. Influencing them at this important developmental stage in their lives will have a significant impact for all of us.”

In addition to bringing issues of sexual violence into the open, Tomlinson also hopes attendees walk away understanding the power a positive response can have as well as what reporting options are available, how to access them, and what to expect in the process.

“I’m so excited and proud to see the post-secondary institutions collaborating with each other. Collaboration isn’t always easy, but when we find common ground, we have a louder voice and greater power — it’s incredible what we can accomplish.”

If you think you have experienced sexual violence, or know someone who has, visit the Sexual Violence Support website for campus and community resources, or arrange a confidential consultation with Carla Bertsch, the university’s sexual violence support advocate, by confidential email