News  New sexual assault policy in student-led drafting process

Student groups aiming for proactive, pro-survivor approach

A working group composed of representatives from several student groups is currently involved in the drafting of a new sexual assault policy for McGill in collaboration with the administration. The process follows the proposal introduced by the group at McGill’s Forum on Consent in February, seeking to address the fact that McGill has never had a specific policy that deals with sexual assault.

The student working group responsible for the policy’s drafting includes representatives from the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE), the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill, and the office of Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan. The Feminist Collective of McGill Law and McGill Women and the Criminal Law are also participating as consultants.

“The reason that we wanted to work on a sexual assault policy was so that McGill would have a way to respond to [sexual assault] cases, such as the one [involving three McGill Redmen football players] that happened last year, in a responsible way. But it’s also to institutionalize a way to work against issues of rape culture and sexual assault on campus, so to recognize this as a broader issue,” explained Kai O’Doherty, a former member of the UGE and current board member of QPIRG, in an interview with The Daily.

SACOMSS External Coordinator Jean Murray noted to The Daily that, although the University’s initial response to the case involving the three McGill Redmen football players charged with sexual assault in July 2012 highlighted the need for a sexual assault policy, the need itself is not new.

“I would say it was more in direct response [to the fact] that McGill doesn’t have a policy than to the case. The case just sort of brought it to greater attention that McGill doesn’t have a policy,” said Murray.

The current draft of the policy roughly follows the structure of the proposal that was created and endorsed by the same student groups in February. The policy is meant to be pro-survivor and to have a proactive, as opposed to reactive, approach to sexual assault on campus through the institutionalization of awareness campaigns and education on sexual assault and consent.

According to SACOMSS External Coordinator Frances Maychak, the draft also requires the institutionalization of a sexual assault response coordinator position. The individual would be “responsible for coordinating awareness campaigns (such as the upcoming consent campaign) and acting more broadly as a resource for survivors on campus.”

“Essentially Bianca [Tétrault, Liaison Officer (Harm Reduction)] is currently in this position, although the details of the position are still being figured out and negotiated,” said Maychak in an email to The Daily.

Though the drafting of the policy is student-driven, there has been consultation with Tétrault and Dean of Students André Costopoulos, both of whom met with members from the student groups involved with the policy at the end of this summer.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings since then and Bianca and I have both given our ideas on [the draft]. The student groups have taken them back for a second round of drafting based on our feedback, and we’re very soon going to have the meeting to go through this second draft and give our feedback,” said Costopoulos in an interview with The Daily.

Murray explained that, in response to Costopoulos and Tétrault’s suggestions, changes to the draft have been made regarding the University’s ability to apply certain aspects of the policy.

“It’s often things that [Costopoulos and Tétrault will] say the University doesn’t have jurisdiction over, or the University can’t actually implement this thing that we want, and that the University doesn’t yet have the power to put a policy about that,” said Murray.

In addition to consulting with Costopoulos and Tétrault, the student working group will also be seeking input from the McGill community on the policy. It will take the policy to Senate by the end of the academic year, as a first step toward its implementation.

Costopoulos said that it might take a while before the policy is officially in effect.

“Things like new policies in a university take time to put together,” he said. “There’s a good reason for that; you have to get them right. They’re important documents, policies, especially if they affect a whole community, like a sexual assault policy. So you want to take the time to do it right.”

Despite the McGill administration’s efforts to help the working group to bring the policy forward, Stewart-Kanigan highlighted in an interview with The Daily that the group “want[s] to make sure that [the policy is] on [its] own terms and reflects the original spirit that was created and endorsed by the working group.”