On Sept. 12, McGill released a long-awaited Draft Policy for Sexual Violence, a final version of which will be shown to Senate next month. The Draft comes after a student working group’s Sexual Assault Policy Proposal (SAPP) was rejected in March. The administration’s draft is its compromise on the issue, but the draft has been criticized for being vague, lacklustre, and unclear as to what concrete actions the administration plans to take. Such conflict would in part be resolved if the amending of the draft was more transparent, and if the University made it clear to students what exactly it can and cannot do in response to cases of sexual violence. Transparent communication and clear, actionable statements from McGill are essential to finalizing a sexual violence policy that is accessible to students, and that holds McGill accountable to supporting and protecting its members.
Presently, the draft formalizes existing precedents on how McGill handles reported sexual assaults. For example, it offers to enact immediate separation measures between the survivor and the alleged perpetrator. In Winter 2015, this occurred when one alleged perpetrator was banned from certain study spaces during the exam period. McGill cannot be expected to offer immediate expulsion of any alleged perpetrator without a police report; however, it should state on what grounds the administration can expel or discipline a perpetrator, details that are glaringly absent from the draft.
However, punitive measures alone will not necessarily improve the low rate of reporting sexual violence on university campuses. Because sexual assault is severely underreported—one Global News study found that fewer than one in five Canadian women who had experienced sexual assault actually reported it—proactive educational measures are crucial in combatting sexual violence. While general education initiatives are included under clause 8 of the draft, these must be further clarified in the form of actionable statements that hold McGill accountable to a timeline. As a task force commissioned by the University of Ottawa to address sexual violence on Canadian university campuses concluded, administrations “must invest in strong public education that focuses on engaging the campus community in ending sexual violence.”
McGill must explicitly state how it plans on proactively educating /all/ members of its community: There needs to be a greater acknowledgement of intersectionality—in both education and support—when the University’s policy is finalized. Although the draft acknowledges in its introduction that sexual violence disproportionately affects various “equity-seeking groups who experience intersecting forms of disadvantage,” a specific clause about intersectionality should be included under the “Education and Awareness” section. An acknowledgement of the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, socioeconomic status, ability, and faith cannot have a meaningful impact unless it is woven into actionable statements about education and support. These support services must be able to direct survivors to the appropriate resources if the survivor feels that an instance of sexual violence was linked to specific identity factors.
McGill’s policy must explain exactly what resources—in terms of funds, staff, and substantive support infrastructure—it will devote to supporting survivors. Ryerson University's Sexual Violence Policy demonstrates that there is precedent for such a policy in the Canadian post-secondary context, as it lists the specific roles and responsibilities of individual administrators. It also agrees to maintain statistics regarding sexual violence on campus “for the purposes of community education.” While clause 7 indicates that McGill will establish a centralized office on campus for support services, the policy must elaborate on what specific resources this will entail.
Ultimately, McGill needs to be transparent with its students about what measures it can and cannot include in its policy, and why. McGill is currently asking for feedback on the draft from students. Additionally, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) are hosting focus groups with trained volunteers from the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students' Society (SACOMSS) to gather more in-depth feedback from students. Before the draft is submitted to Senate, McGill must acknowledge the feedback that it does include, and explain what major student feedback it received that it could not.
Finally, avenues for feedback should remain open even after the policy reaches Senate and is officially implemented in order to ensure that the issue of sexual violence on campus remains a dialogue. If the final policy becomes another decision made behind closed doors, McGill will undoubtedly face even greater criticism for failing to follow through on its calls for student input.