McGill’s lack of sexual assault policy criticized by SACOMSS, SSMU executive

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Student groups published an open letter to McGill on March 24 to express their frustration at the lack of a formal sexual assault policy at the university as well as propose various measures to consider in the implementation of one. The letter also requested increased consultation with the student body on the matter.

“We call upon you to carefully consider our recommendations regarding a sexual assault policy,” the letter states. “Furthermore, we ask that you include the undersigned in ongoing consultation in order to have a campus-based approach to the issue of campus-based sexual violence, and to treat this issue with the sense of urgency it deserves.”

The letter was co-signed by the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) executive team, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE), Queer McGill, the SSMU Equity Committee, the Feminist Collective at McGill Law, Women and the Criminal Law, and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG).

QPIRG member Brooke Nancekivell stressed the importance of maintaining an inclusive consultation process in the formulation of a unified sexual assault policy at McGill.

“[There have been] many calls for the McGill administration to involve students, listen to students and engage with their feedback, input, and their desires for change,” Nancekivell said. “So far there’s been a lot of talk about it, but not a lot of action. QPIRG sees this policy as one way to institutionalize action and change through popular education and raising awareness about consent and sexual assault, and creating initiatives to support survivors.”

Dean of Students André Costopoulos maintained that the McGill administration will continue to value an inclusive approach to policy formation.

“We can always consult more,” he said. “We notice that there are other groups that we didn’t know about that we didn’t consult, and then they come forward, and [so] we bring them into the conversation [….] We’re here to take [student] concerns into consideration in any decision that we make and in any initiative we bring forward.”

The letter acknowledged McGill’s recent efforts to battle sexual assault on campus. After allegations surfaced last semester that three McGill football players sexually assaulted a Concordia student in 2012, McGill hosted a forum on consent and is in the process of expanding programs like Rez Project, which address sexual assault.

The open letter highlighted recommendations for a proposed Sexual Assault Policy, which include a proactive approach to sexual assault and rape culture and ensuring that the policy is applicable to the entire McGill community.

Costopoulos said he is hopeful that the recent appointment of Bianca Tétraul as harm reduction councillor will provide a comprehensive approach to combatting sexual assault.

“The harm reduction councillor is in the process of meeting with student groups around campus to figure out what the landscape is like,” he said. “The first [project] is to do a survey of what we have already, figure out what we need to have, and help with the [sexual assault] policy development. It’s about building a safe, respectful campus community, and combatting sexual assault is one piece of the puzzle.”

Nancekivell said she is hopeful that McGill will make changes to its current approach to sexual assault.

“Of course there’s the challenge of bureaucracy, but we’re hoping that, considering the amount of mobilization and attention directed towards sexual assault over the past year, this will be something that people will take up and really push for,” she said. “We see this as something that’s really needed on campus.”