06/16/2015 10:27 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia wants young people to help educate peers about sexual violence

KENTVILLE, N.S. - Young people in Nova Scotia are being called on to come up with new ways to educate their peers about sexual assault as part of a provincial strategy that follows several high-profile cases involving sexualized violence.

Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said Tuesday that the unique approach will include a $500,000 fund for students and youth groups to develop tools to teach people about sexual violence.

She said the money can be used for things like apps or social media pages that address issues such as consent and healthy relationships.

"We've never involved a highly vulnerable group, which of course are youth, in the conversation to the point where they can effect change, and that's what we're doing," Bernard said in an interview following the release of the strategy.

"Whether we like it, young people in elementary and junior high are talking about sexual violence and they are going to be the leaders in bringing programs in to help their peers."

The innovation fund is one facet of a broader $6-million, three-year initiative to combat sexual violence through education, prevention and improved supports for victims.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the province's first sexual violence strategy will create nine community support networks to help victims of sexual violence, while expanding a nurse examiner program for people who have been sexually assaulted to Sydney and western Nova Scotia.

Work on the strategy began in April 2014, starting with consultations with interest groups and an online survey launched last summer that heard from about 800 people.

Bernard said many victims of sexual violence don't know where to turn, adding that two provincial committees have been formed and a specialist will co-ordinate work on implementing the strategy.

People who staff existing crisis lines, like 811, will get special training on sexual violence.

Lucille Harper, executive director of a sexual assault centre in Antigonish, said the strategy hits all the right marks but doesn't yet contain many specifics.

Bernard said the province wanted to develop a policy on sexual violence after the death in 2013 of Rehtaeh Parsons, who attempted suicide after her family said a picture of her being sexually assaulted was distributed.

Two universities in Halifax were also faced with cases involving sexually violent behaviour by students.

Dentistry students at Dalhousie University posted sexually violent messages on a private Facebook page last year, while students at Saint Mary's University were videotaped singing a chant about non-consensual, underage sex in 2013.

— By Alison Auld in Halifax