I do not want to write this; I should not have had to write this because it makes me sick to. I would like to reiterate that telling my story like this is not, should not, be the norm in ensuring assaulters feel the consequences of their actions. It takes an immense amount of emotional labour. Processes should already be in place to deal with reports of gendered and sexual violence. No survivor should be forced to resort to such dramatic and public measures. But in light of recent events and special context, I feel an obligation to do so. I feel empowered and enraged enough to do so because I am so fucking tired of this bullshit.
I would like to first reach out to other, fellow survivors. I am sorry if this news has been triggering. I know that with my choice to take this very public route of reporting through the press, I have dredged up painful memories and invited harmful rhetoric from the community. I’ve seen comments and statements that hurt to read, that invalidate our trauma and experiences, and I know you might have seen them too. It is okay to turn away from all of this, to disengage and just focus on yourself. It’s okay to feel rage and pain and sadness and weakness. You are strong otherwise, to have survived. Regardless of how you’ve dealt with your pain so far and how your journey towards healing looks like, whether that’s reporting your abuser or not, you are valid; you matter.
Regarding these allegations of sexual violence and assault against the SSMU VP Internal-elect: they are not allegations to me, they are very real (I would know! I was there when it happened). This is not false information. I am not lying. To imply that I am leads to very dangerous rhetoric that invalidates the experiences of other survivors. To suggest this is a false accusation ignores the grueling process survivors have to go through in order to report, recall, and recount an incident of sexual violence. This rhetoric is what can prevent survivors from coming forward in the first place. I reported the incident anonymously because the person I was reporting had recently become a very powerful and visible person on campus, and I felt it was safer for me to do it that way.
Don’t believe me? That really is too bad. And no, I will not be revealing any more information about the incident. It is absolutely absurd to ask survivors to reveal and relive trauma and have them recount, in more detail, what exactly had happened so you could deem for yourself whether the incident that occurred counted as sexual violence. I think that’s something I can determine for myself, thank you very much. To have my assailant know any more details about the incident will reveal my identity and open myself up to the possibility of harm and retaliation – from him, from his friends, and from the community.
A reporting process or complaint form that allows for people to submit equity complaints anonymously (in writing, in person, or by proxy) is survivor centric and trauma-informed, which I commend the Involvement Restriction Policy for. I chose this route because reporting through the police or McGill would have been a long and arduous process that I did not have the time, resources, or energy for. I would have also had to sacrifice my anonymity if I went through the police. I would have had to face institutions that have long histories of mistreating cases like mine, with processes that are nowhere near trauma-informed or survivor centric. On top of these barriers, I have heard stories accusing past SSMU Executives of sexual violence, and the inadequate policies and reporting processes that prevented these allegations from coming to light or leading to action. I thought that public pressure would spark action and that I would be able to get back to going about my life and dealing with school.
Beyond my case, we need to talk about the toxic rape culture that is prevalent on this campus. We have all (hopefully) completed It Takes All of Us, the presentation on consent that all students and staff are required to watch. If you did Frosh or any other multi-day organized drinking event, you might have had to watch a video on consent. This is progress, but it is not enough. Gendered and sexual violence is so normalized that many people do not recognize it for what it is when it occurs to them, or even when they themselves have perpetuated it. It disproportionately affects women, LGBTQ2S+ people, people with disabilities, and people of colour. It is so pervasive and insidious to our culture that we absolutely need to be critical of everyone – student leaders, your best friends, your partner, and even yourself.
Sexual violence doesn’t just happen in dark back alleys, perpetuated by men in trench coats; it happens a lot closer to home. It is not just violent physical abuse – it is all unwanted sexual behaviours, small acts brushed off as “nothing” when it is something that we as a society should have never normalized as being okay. It is about power and a lack of consent.I am sure it is difficult to reconcile with oneself and come to terms with the fact that you yourself might be guilty of perpetuating sexual violence. I am sure it is difficult to realize that your own friends and family could be guilty of this, despite maybe being “nice and decent people otherwise.” I’ve heard it all before, and I am tired of that rhetoric. To sympathize with – or excuse – perpetuators of gendered and sexual violence is to ignore the pain and trauma survivors experience, and the struggles of those who do chose to come forward and demand justice. Do better, and be more critical of yourself and each other. If we’re serious about addressing this issue, unlearning toxic behaviours and working towards creating safer spaces and culture is essential and necessary. Anyone can be or be affected by a perpetuator of sexual violence, and it’s about time we have that conversation again.
I would like to respond to the reaction, or lack thereof, that the McGill Daily article sparked on this campus. It is commendable to see so many individuals and groups take a stand against gendered and sexual violence. It is the silence that concerns me the most, especially when it comes from prominent student leaders and bodies.
Earlier this week, a joint statement was released by incoming SSMU Executives condemning the VP Internal-elect. Incoming Executives Brooklyn Frizzle (VP University Affairs-elect), Maheen Akter (VP Student Life-elect) and Ayo Ogunremi (VP External-elect) were signatories on this statement. Missing from this statement were signatories from our SSMU President-elect, Jemark Earle and VP Finance-elect, Gifford Marpole. I ask this to Jemark and Gifford: why did you not choose to sign the initial statement that condemned sexual violence? Why did you feel the need to write and sign a separate statement that does not explicitly condemn VP Internal-elect, Declan McCool, as your fellow executives have? Your silence is complicity. In the face of allegations concerning sexual violence, your initial silence means you have chosen the side of my assailant.
Similarly, when McCool posted his own statement, something only his friends were able to view on Facebook, the sheer amount of people liking and heart reacting to his statement in support of the things he said was extremely concerning. Some of these people hold positions of power on campus – coordinators for McGill multi-day drinking events, like Frosh, Hype Week, Carnival, and Science Games, as well as students holding executive positions on Faculty or Departmental student associations. These people plan and facilitate equity training, and deal with disclosures of violence. To see them in support of someone who has sexually assaulted me hurts because it means they either don’t believe the allegations or truly don’t care about stopping gendered and sexual violence on this campus.
It is extremely concerning to see this silence and quiet support from leaders who are charged with creating safer spaces at this university. It it not enough anymore to fill campaign platforms with buzzwords, like “equity” and “inclusivity,” and placating promises towards ending sexual violence on campus and protecting survivors. We need you to do more and show it. We cannot allow incidents and reports of sexual violence to slide by without consequence, without standing firmly against it; otherwise, it encourages it.
Finally, earlier this week, SSMU released a statement regarding this situation, which states that due to restrictive legal obligations it is required they “hold a Special General Assembly in order to remove an individual from office” – which won’t be able to occur until McCool is set to begin his term June 1. In addition, had I reported through the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy instead of the IRP, the most it would be able to do would be to “recommend” his removal by SSMU Human Resources, leaving the decision of his removal up to the outcome of a General Assembly. This experience has already been taxing enough as it is. To wait in limbo for processes that are beyond my control and for justice to be served to my assailant, I would have to wait another month and a half for any further action to occur, which even then isn’t guaranteed.
So, to VP Internal-elect, Declan McCool, I will say this to you. I was shown the statement you posted on Facebook and have since then deleted. What was concerning was that, despite supposedly supporting the IRP and committing to it’s improvement next year, you criticize its survivor centric and anonymous reporting processes as soon as they affect you. What was most concerning to me was that after a week of silence, the conclusion you came to was that you felt as if you did nothing wrong. Instead of truly being apologetic and reflective of your actions, you choose to criticize a school newspaper for reporting the news, complain about how you did not know enough about the incident report to defend yourself and act as if you are the one who’s been wronged. It hurt to read. It hurt for other survivors to read. How much thought was put into how I and other survivors would feel in this situation?
I am sure this must all feel very unfair to you, for these allegations to come to light and for it to ruin your reputation. But what about how I feel? How is all of this fair to me? This is pain and rage and sorrow that I will carry in my heart and soul for a lifetime. More than anything, it is important to me that you understand that you are a perpetuator of gendered and sexual violence, that you are truly remorseful about it, and that you will take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence and are seeking support or resources, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) recommends contacting the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre at +1 888-933-9007, Tel-Aide at 514-935-1101, or texting the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 686868, as SACOMSS has suspended drop-in and phone line services until further notice due to COVID-19. SACOMSS can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns.
Additionally, the Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (OSVRSE) at McGill is maintaining reduced services by phone or virtually for McGill members, whether in Montreal, across Canada, or abroad. To request assistance and inquire about adapted services, you can contact them by email or by phone at 514-398-3954. Please allow for a 24hr response time during regular business hours (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm). Drop-in hours, group activities, and volunteering activities are suspended until further notice.