Sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy still lack­ing

Mcgill’s pol­icy not stand-alone and misses av­enues for jus­tice

The McGill Daily - - News - Nora Mccready

On Oc­to­ber 11, Our Turn, a na­tional stu­dent-led ac­tion plan to end on-cam­pus sex­ual as­sault and gen­dered vi­o­lence, hosted an in­for­ma­tion ses­sion with the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) to an­nounce the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s launch. Our Turn is a coali­tion started by Car­leton Univer­sity stu­dents who felt that the school’s sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy was in­suf­fi­cient. So far, 14 uni­ver­si­ties from eight prov­inces have signed onto the ac­tion plan and com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing their own task force to com­bat gen­dered vi­o­lence and sex­ual as­sault on cam­pus.

The speak­ers at the in­for­ma­tion ses­sion in­cluded SSMU VP Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Con­nor Spencer, Stu­dent Life Co­or­di­na­tor for the Con­cor­dia Stu­dent Union (CSU) Leyla Suther­land, and Our Turn na­tional com­mit­tee mem­bers. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from stu­dent groups like the Sex­ual As­sault Cen­ter of the Mcgill Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety (SACOMSS) and the Com­mu­nity Dis­clo­sure Net­work (CDN) were also present.

Spencer dis­cussed the im­por­tance of the work al­ready be­ing done by grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions on cam­pus, em­pha­siz­ing that ac­tivism around this is­sue has al­ways been stu­dent-run: “What was re­ally ex­cit­ing to SSMU about the Our Turn project [...] was that it took grass­roots ini­tia­tives that were al­ready hap­pen­ing on cam­pus [...] and [gave] them the tools and the re­sources that they need.” Spencer said. “What’s re­ally im­por­tant within that is rec­og­niz­ing that on this cam­pus es­pe­cially the move­ment around sex­ual vi­o­lence has al­ways been stu­dent-led.”

Sex­ual vi­o­lence at Mcgill

Spencer and the rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the CDN ad­dressed the Mcgill con­text, ex­plain­ing why this con­ver­sa­tion is es­pe­cially im­por­tant now, and why SSMU is tak­ing steps to­ward a gen­dered and sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy sep­a­rate from the univer­sity.

“Here at SSMU we have a very spe­cific con­text. For those who are not from Mcgill you may not know but [...] we had a rough year last year,” said Spencer, re­fer­ring to the res­ig­na­tions of David Aird and Ben Ger in March 2017. Aird was last year’s VP Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, Ger was SSMU Pres­i­dent — both were pub­licly ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault. “Like a lot of cam­puses across Canada we had a bit of a cri­sis, and it was de­cided [...] that this needs to be a con­ver­sa­tion now.”

The CDN was formed to specif­i­cally ad­dress the al­le­ga­tions to­wards David Aird and to pur­sue al­ter­na­tive jus­tice for the women he as­saulted.

“We ini­tially formed as an ad­hoc group cre­ated by sur­vivors and their al­lies in or­der to pur­sue ac­tion against a spe­cific in­di­vid­ual through a third-party re­port­ing sys­tem af­ter find­ing tra­di­tional av­enues of jus­tice to be in­suf­fi­cient, ex­plained the CDN rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive who spoke at the event was also one of the women Aird as­saulted. Her ex­pe­ri­ence fol­low­ing the as­sault high­lighted the con­tin­ued fail­ure of the univer­sity in hold­ing stu­dents ac­count­able for their ac­tions.

“I de­sired anonymity but found that that wasn’t an op­tion in tra­di­tional av­enues,” she said, “and at the time as now I had no faith that the process at the level of the univer­sity as it stood would be sur­vivor cen­tered or guar­an­tee my vi­sions of jus­tice, or would en­sure my safety and com­fort on cam­pus and I didn’t know what to do and I felt re­ally alone.”

Look­ing for­ward, she em­pha­sized the need for a re­vised sex­ual as­sault pol­icy at the univer­sity level, but also rec­og­nized that this will not be the com­plete so­lu­tion:

“I hope that Mcgill and cam­puses across Canada can [im­prove] the mech­a­nisms of jus­tice and ac­count­abil­ity. We know it’s go­ing to take more than a pol­icy to com­bat sex­u­al­ized and gen­dered vi­o­lence on univer­sity cam­puses [...] but to our minds at the CDN, with­out a pol­icy that sup­ports sur­vivors who seek out in­sti­tu­tional pro­cesses, there can be no jus­tice.”

Mcgill’s pol­icy graded a C-

As a part of its launch, Our Turn graded the sex­ual vi­o­lence poli­cies at the uni­ver­si­ties that have signed on to the Ac­tion Plan. Mcgill re­ceived a C- be­cause the pol­icy is not a stand­alone pol­icy, and does not pro­vide any av­enues for jus­tice if some­one is as­saulted by a fac­ulty mem­ber.

Spencer re­ferred to the risks of con­flat­ing sex­ual as­sault with aca­demic in­frac­tions, as aca­demic of­fi­cers are not trained with deal­ing with sex­ual as­sault, “[The pol­icy] refers to the code of stu­dent con­duct, which means that the same peo­ple that are do­ing the dis­ci­pline for aca­demic in­frac­tions, are [...] re­view­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence cases, and that the sex­ual vi­o­lence cases are go­ing through a doc­u­ment that was writ­ten specif­i­cally for aca­demic in­frac­tions, which is the code of stu­dent con­duct” said Spencer.

The con­ver­sa­tion then turned to the broad man­date of Our Turn, and the work be­ing done to com­bat gen­dered and sex­ual vi­o­lence. “We re­ally want to work on con­ti­nu­ity so be­ing able to have a [...] an ac­tion plan in place that can be used to process and func­tion in dif­fer­ent cities on dif­fer­ent cam­puses,” said Cait­lyn.

The dis­cus­sion ended on a pos­i­tive note, with the speak­ers look­ing for­ward to pos­i­tive change in the fu­ture – “All stu­dents de­serve to feel safe on their cam­pus and all stu­dents have a right to a cam­pus free from sex­ual vi­o­lence.”

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