September 15, 2014

Commentary | March 24, 2014
An open letter on the sexual assault policy

On February 26, 2014, the McGill administration hosted a Forum on Consent, where student panelists introduced a Sexual Assault Policy Proposal that the undersigned campus groups have endorsed. While we recognize the recent efforts by the administration to begin addressing rape culture and sexual assault on campus, we call upon you to carefully consider our recommendations regarding a Sexual Assault Policy and a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator position as outlined below. Furthermore, we ask that you include the undersigned in ongoing consultation in order to have a campus-based approach to the issue of campus-based sexual violence, and to treat this issue with the sense of urgency it deserves.

This open letter and Policy Proposal is a call to action in the aftermath of the highly publicized response to allegations of sexual assault made against three varsity football players at McGill University. Considering this case and others at McGill (for example, the 2005 hazing), and in conjunction with ongoing cases and administrative responses on campuses across the continent, it is clear that rape culture and sexual assault on our campus warrant a stronger response. We envision the McGill administration having a crucial role in enacting change on our campus.

We are encouraged by the McGill administration’s increasing attention to issues of sexual assault on campus, and the ongoing hiring process for the Harm Reduction Coordinator, a new position that will aim to improve services relating to sexual violence on campus. In an article in the McGill Reporter, Dean of Students André Costopoulos stated that many aspects of our Sexual Assault Policy Proposal “exist already in various sections of McGill policies and codes of conduct.” Nevertheless, until comprehensive, concrete services for survivors and a formal Sexual Assault Policy have been formalized, the administration’s commitment to improvements will remain an empty promise.

We are also disappointed by the lack of consultation with relevant campus groups, who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to tackling the prevalence of sexual violence and rape culture in our community. This ongoing work has equipped our groups with expertise in survivor support and in the development of pro-survivor policies regarding sexual violence on university campuses.

We therefore submit a Sexual Assault Policy Proposal as a proactive step toward being heard regarding initiatives to create a safer campus. In light of the publicly expressed commitments made by Costopoulos and Ollivier Dyens, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), we urge the McGill administration to adopt our Policy Proposal and to incorporate our continuous input in developing a university-wide Sexual Assault Policy.

Our main recommendations include:

• Developing a comprehensive, accessible, pro-survivor Sexual Assault Policy that takes a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to the problem of sexual assault and rape culture on campus.
• Hiring a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator who will work closely with the signing parties, provide safety measures and listening support for survivors, and advocate for them. The Coordinator will also serve the community through policy development and campaigns targeting rape culture on campus.
• Ensuring that the Policy applies to all members of the McGill community; students, administration, faculty, and all other employees.
• Including clearly articulated safety measures for building a safer space on campus for survivors and the community at large.

Given that, according to a study by Students Active For Ending Rape, and V-day, an activist movement to end violence against girls and women, 83 per cent of the 299 universities surveyed had clearly outlined disciplinary procedures regarding sexual assault, and given the current climate across Canadian campuses pertaining to sexual assault, it is imperative that McGill promptly address its lack of a sexual assault policy and of institutionalized survivor services. Let us be at the forefront of universities worldwide, not only in academia, but also in building safer campus communities.

Community groups and members at large are invited to endorse this policy at www.ipetitions.com/petition/mcgill-community-for-a-sexual-assault-policy.

Signed,

The Students’ Society of McGill University Executive, The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society, The Union for Gender Empowerment, Queer McGill, The Students’ Society of McGill University Equity Committee, The Feminist Collective at McGill Law, Women and the Criminal Law, Quebec Public Interest Research Group McGill.


This open letter was previously published online at www.sexualassaultpolicyatmcgill.com.

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