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News | Consultation Report emphasizes specificity in Sexual Violence Policy

SSMU and PGSS report calls for contextualization and specification

On September 12, the Office of the Provost released the Draft Policy against Sexual Violence (DPSV) for community consultation, with the intent of submitting it to Senate in November for approval. Following requests from representatives of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), the Office of the Provost agreed to fund a series of focus groups on the DPSV.

Initial reactions to the DPSV

Between September 23 and October 3, SSMU and PGSS hosted a total of eight focus group sessions during which students gave detailed feedback on the DPSV, including two closed sessions for survivors of sexual assault. All sessions were facilitated by trained volunteers from the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students Society (SACOMSS).

On October 12, SSMU and PGSS released a Consultation Report on the DPSV, which contains 28 recommendations for improvement. These recommendations were divided into seven different categories: language and framing, scope, empowering survivors, education and awareness, support resources, accountability, and comprehensive review.

In an interview with The Daily, SSMU VP University Affairs Erin Sobat explained the process that led up to writing the consultation report: “McGill first circulated a draft policy in May, over the summer […] and at the time we were really emphasizing the need for wider consultation, particularly with those who would be most affected by a policy like this,” said Sobat. “Now in the most recent revisions we see a centralized office that has been identified with a name, but there are other policies and procedures at the University that aren’t explicitly named or aren’t very clear on how they play in.”

With regards to the focus group sessions, he said, “I think it was very useful and important to get the perspective of just students at large on how they would access or navigate this policy. […] I think for students who were just reading through this, it really wasn’t very clear what it was intending to do.”

In an email to The Daily, PGSS Equity Commissioner Angela Yu, who was also involved in the drafting of the report, said, “our report emphasizes that the policy must be explicit about the expectations, resources and procedures that exist on our campus to address sexual violence to best serve all members of our community.”

“I think for students who were just reading through this, it really wasn’t very clear what it was intending to do.”

“A pro-survivor policy needs to clearly outline centralized reporting procedures and the rights of respondents just as much as it should ensure the university-wide provision of accessible and intersectional support resources,” she went on to write.

The Daily also reached out to a representative from the McGill chapter of Silence is Violence to discuss the DPSV. “I believe that survivors’ recommendations should have been specifically highlighted and given extra weight too. Survivors know what’s best for them,” the representative said, adding that, “I’m concerned that there was no specific effort to reach out to those who have reported sexual assault at McGill to provide feedback.”

“A pro-survivor policy needs to clearly outline centralized reporting procedures and the rights of respondents just as much as it should ensure the university-wide provision of accessible and intersectional support resources.”

The Consultation report

As for the consultation report itself, the first category, language and framing, revealed “many participants, and particularly survivors, indicated that the policy’s preamble does not sufficiently recognize the devastating impact of sexual violence for those who experience it.”

It further notes the context of sexual violence is not explicitly defined, nor are the barriers that prevent reporting incidents of sexual violence, and that certain phrases are ambiguous.

The report calls for “contextualizing the disproportionate occurrence of sexual violence on university campus” and recognizing the impact of systemic oppression, among other recommendations.

The section on empowering survivors places much emphasis on creating a “pro-survivor framework,” revealing that participants voiced concerns about survivors’ autonomy.

Regarding this, the report notes that many participants believed the emphasis on “procedural equity,” took away from the policy’s other commitments. They recommended that the rights of both survivors and perpetrators be clearly outlined to clarify “procedural expectations” for both parties.

It also recommends that the policy specify a “centralized disclosure and reporting process,” and introduce timelines for the provision of “support and recourse measures for both disclosures and reports.”

With regards to education and awareness, the report calls for the development of a university-wide education plan that will address sexual violence awareness and response measures, as well as provide basic educational materials to staff.

The report also recommends that “detailed training sessions,” be provided for front line service staff and those involved with responding to disclosures and reports.

Section five of the DPSV, which focuses on support resources, recommends that McGill “identify the specific resources responsible for enacting policy commitments, including employee titles and a centralized awareness and response office.”

With regards to education and awareness, the report calls for the development of a university-wide education plan that will address sexual violence awareness and response measures, as well as provide basic educational materials to staff.

It also recommends the implementation of “new intersectional and culturally-specific support resources,” and the development of direct lines of referral to all support resources.

The section on accountability concluded that McGill must acknowledge the history of sexual violence, as well as the administration and community’s shared responsibility of addressing it and recognizing perpetrators’ role in enacting sexual violence. It also called upon McGill to commit to enforcing consequences “via existing disciplinary procedures.”

The final section, “comprehensive review,” focuses on Article 21 of the DPSV, which provides for a review of the “phenomenon” of sexual violence on campus.

The report calls for a review of the policy to be conducted by a committee at “arms-length” from the administration with “qualified students, staff, faculty, and external experts.” It asks that the committee be mandated to review McGill’s existing policies and procedures, and that they develop a detailed consultation plan for reaching people who understand university reporting structures.

The report’s final request was that the committee mandate, consultation plan, progress reports, and final recommendations be shared with the university community.

It concluded that a policy against sexual violence at McGill is the first step towards combating rape culture on campus. This current draft “provides a valuable framework for educating the community and enhancing support for survivors.”

The report’s final request was that the committee mandate, consultation plan, progress reports, and final recommendations be shared with the university community.

More than just a policy

However, Silence is Violence expressed concerns regarding the impact of the policy on sexual violence.

“I don’t think that a policy could have much effect if its enactment isn’t being actively overseen by another body,” the spokesperson said. “While I think the recommendations are trying to achieve the best they can in this system, I seriously doubt there would be much difference in the prevalence of sexual violence on campus or support offered to survivors.”

Meanwhile, Yu added that “we believe that the campus review of sexual violence slated for next year will allow us to continue these much-needed conversations on a university-wide level and productively direct the implementation of the policy.”

Sobat also believes there is still much to do in regards to McGill’s work against sexual violence. “I believe it’s important for us to recognize that we need more than just a policy. [The University should go] beyond the policy at the procedures and [consider] the longer term educational strategy on campus,” he said.

“While I think the recommendations are trying to achieve the best they can in this system, I seriously doubt there would be much difference in the prevalence of sexual violence on campus or support offered to survivors.”

He added that “we would like to see a recognition from the administration that sexual violence not only does occur, but has occurred in the past and people have been failed by the system in place. A campus wide plan on campus for implementation and education is definitely needed.”


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