SACOMSS A-Branch offers support to sexual harassment and assault survivors, calls for cultural and policy reform
In light of the recent articles published in The McGill Daily about student-professor relationships (“Let’s talk about teacher,” September 1, 2015, Features; “The vicious circle of professor-student relationships,” March 21, Features), A-Branch wants to remind the McGill community of the support services we offer in navigating policies and the administration in such cases. We would also like to echo the sentiments of others demanding that the University combat sexual harassment.
A-Branch is a branch of the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill’s Student Society (SACOMSS), a student-run organization based in the basement of the SSMU building (room B-27). A-Branch – which stands for advocacy, accompaniment, and activism – specifically supports McGill students, staff, and faculty in navigating McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, The Code of Student Conduct, and other relevant McGill policies, as well as advocates on their behalf to ensure that their rights are respected and their needs are addressed. A-Branch cannot offer legal advice; however, we can offer information, accompaniment, and a safe, confidential space to explore your options. University policies and procedures can be difficult to understand, and the process often takes an incredible amount of emotional energy and time.
Should you, or someone you know, want help understanding or navigating these policies, we are here to support you through the process. We believe all survivors.
We also recognize that the policies and procedures that exist at McGill have their limitations in meeting the needs of those who access them. As detailed in previous McGill Daily articles, McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination is insufficient. It can often be a tiring, lengthy process that lacks adequate standards for discipline, which often prevents people from coming forward with their complaints when the potential outcomes remain unclear. Furthermore, the Policy does not adequately account for the specific nature of sexual harassment. The assessors tasked with implementing the Policy are currently not trained to address the particular sensitivities found in cases of sexual harassment, which leads to a risk of retraumatizing those who come to them for help. Although confidentiality in such processes is important, there is little accountability and transparency to the community. Finally, the multitude of complaints regarding student-professor relationships highlights the need for a cultural shift among professors and all those who hold power over others within the University. There must be mechanisms outside of the Policy to counteract these patterns of harassment, including advocacy for policy improvement, as well as measures of safety and support for complainants from the McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT) and department and faculty leaders.
Finally, we add our voice to the over 1500 McGill students and alumni calling for the University to start better addressing sexual violence on campus. Although sexual harassment and sexual assault are often understood as distinct cases, the reality is that these lines are often blurred. This can cause harassment cases to be thrown out because they may be interpreted to fall more under the category of sexual assault, which is not covered by the Policy, leaving survivors of sexual violence with little help or institutional recourse. We support the demands for the dedication of resources and staff to addressing sexual assault, the creation and adoption of a pro-survivor, intersectional Sexual Assault Policy, and a transparent review of existing policies and procedures.
Hold McGill accountable to combat sexual violence
Over the last four years, I participated in, then passionately followed, the development of an innovative Sexual Assault Policy (SAP) at McGill. This initiative, led by a group of student volunteers, also became the basis for my graduate work on campus sexual violence.
It is with great sadness, though little surprise, that I learned that the administration, which had publicly committed to bringing the SAP to McGill’s Senate, has now announced that it will not do so. I’m writing to show my support to students in the SAP working group and survivors on campus at this difficult time, and to call on students, alumni, and employees alike to show their support.
By pulling out of the student-drafted policy, McGill has shown gross disregard for the time and energy of its students, having wasted time through back and forth meetings and negotiations for three years. The SAP working group is composed of those most likely to be affected by sexual violence within the McGill community – mainly women and trans people. The administration paid lip service to their unpaid work, using this labour to bolster its reputation. When a university commits to creating a sexual assault policy and takes credit for the free labour done by community members – only to blatantly disregard the result of their work after three years and declare its intention to establish its own policy development process – systemic cissexism and misogyny at McGill are made visible.
Coming from upper-level administrators, this withdrawal of support is not some awkward misstep. It demonstrates the administration’s disregard for the safety and well-being of the McGill community. McGill’s actions reek of political maneuvering: it let the group continue its work for three relentless years, benefitting from the publicity, only to negate the importance of intersectionality in tackling sexual violence, a pillar of the proposed SAP, and establish an entirely new policy development process. A recent McGill Daily article (“McGill feeds a cycle of violence,” April 20, Features) demonstrates that McGill’s treachery goes much deeper.
The proposed SAP is incredibly innovative, and reflects best practices established by the most recent research on responses to campus sexual violence. McGill has missed the opportunity to act as a forward-thinking institution and has once more shown its utter disregard for the epidemic that is campus sexual assault.
I invite the McGill community to excel where the administration has failed: hold the university accountable, stand for the SAP, and demand that more be done to combat sexual violence on campus.
—Anais Van Vliet, Master of Social Work ‘13