News | Working group presents full sexual assault policy draft

Survivor-focused approach central aspect

On November 13, members of the student-led Sexual Assault Policy Working Group presented a complete draft of the proposed university sexual assault policy to students. The group, which includes representatives from several student groups that deal with issues of sexual assault, has been working with Dean of Students André Costopoulos and Liaison Officer (Harm Reduction) Bianca Tétrault on the policy since March, and hopes to present the policy to Senate for approval by the end of the academic year.

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs and working group member Claire Stewart-Kanigan explained that four overarching principles guided the drafting of the policy.

“The four pillars that support this policy are a pro-survivor approach, a proactive approach, an approach that recognizes diversity of experiences related to sexual assault, and a university-wide commitment,” she said.

Following the preamble and definitions, the policy begins with what the presenters called “the non-negotiables” in the proposed University stance on sexual assault, namely a proactive approach in combatting the normalization of sexual assault, a focus on the safety and empowerment of survivors, and respect for the survivor’s articulation of their experience in the context of a consent-based definition of sexual assault.

The policy then outlines concrete proactive measures for the University to take. “The last thing we want is for this policy to be a kind of platitude without operational task-based assignments,” said Stewart-Kanigan.

Notably, the policy mandates the Office of the Dean of Students to run regular consent campaigns, to maintain a collection of resources on sexual assault, and to hold training to combat the normalization of sexual assault for members of the McGill community.

The policy also calls for the creation of a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) position, to be charged with maintaining an office space dedicated to assisting survivors. The SARC will also oversee the development of consent campaigns and provide resources to McGill groups wishing to conduct their own sexual assault sensitivity trainings.

The “University Responses to Incidents of Sexual Assault” section formalizes the pro-survivor approach of the policy, focusing on “safety measures” that prioritize the survivor’s safety, convenience, and confidentiality.

“We haven’t really focused a lot on disciplinary measures for the perpetrator in this policy, because we want this to be purely in terms of the survivor’s needs and them being able to dictate how to go forward,” working group member Megan Baiocco said at the presentation.

In response to concerns raised about the vagueness of the policy on response measures, working group member Kai O’Doherty explained that the policy was left intentionally vague in order to let the survivor define what measures they need to be safe.

“Something may happen to the perpetrator because of this, but ultimately we’re framing this in terms of what the survivor needs,” added Baiocco.

Procedures for responding to incidents of sexual assault, including the implementation of safety measures and disciplinary measures, will nonetheless be formalized in a separate document, the Sexual Assault Policy Implementation Guide. The guide, which will detail how to put specific elements of the policy into practice, will be reviewed annually by a working group chaired by the Dean of Students.

One audience member asked whether it was possible for the policy to target specific groups with sexual assault sensitivity and consent training, such as varsity athletes. The presenters explained that, although it is difficult to find suitable language to target specific groups such as athletes or frosh leaders, the policy does provide for the possibility to conduct specific training “as deemed necessary by the Dean of Students and the SARC.”

Presenters noted that the consultation on the policy will continue, emphasizing that, since the policy would apply to all members of the McGill community, the working group will make a particular effort to seek input from non-student groups, such as McGill unions. Community members will be able to leave comments on the sexual assault policy working group’s website, and can also get involved by helping with the broader consultation and with lobbying Senate, presenters said.

“We do expect to get some resistance [from Senate] on some of the things, and that’s why we’re getting consultation with different groups and looking at how we can phrase things,” Baiocco told The Daily. “We want to get a lot more consultation and feedback.”