Commentary, Opinion

Time’s Up—on campus sexual violence

On Jan. 7, black gowns dominated the red carpet at the 75th annual Golden Globes, as stars displayed their solidarity for Time’s Up, a movement dedicated to ending sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. It arose out of a wave of feminist activism in 2017 that bred similar movements, most prominently #MeToo.

Despite the increased attention that issues regarding sexual assault in Hollywood and other industries have gained over the past year, movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo need to translate into local change. While Hollywood is making immense progress, McGill and other institutions must use the momentum from global movements to address sexual violence in their own communities, rather than letting the entertainment industry hog the spotlight.

According to Statistics Canada, 635,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2014. Between 2009 and 2014, 117,238 sexual assaults were reported to police. The majority of sexual assaults go unreported and campuses are no exception to this epidemic—one in five women will experience sexual violence while attending a post-secondary institution.

Rampant sexual assault plagues university campuses across Canada, and McGill is not immune. From the alleged sexual assault of a student by a dentist in the Faculty of Dentistry in 2016; the allegations of sexual misconduct against the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) External in 2017 and by a professor in the Institute of Islamic Studies in 2017; or when three former members of the Redmen football team were accused of sexual assault and forcible confinement in 2012; McGill clearly has not yet solved its own issues with sexual violence. These examples are just some of the few that garnered national media coverage; however, as statistics reflect, the vast majority of cases do not receive the same magnitude of attention.

In order to work towards ending sexual violence on campus, McGill must treat it as a public health epidemic. Sexual assault is not only a crime, but it can also cause or exacerbate lasting mental health issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. In some cases, it can even lead to suicide. The dark reality is that too many survivors, on and off campus, are forced to live this trauma every day.

McGill has policies in place regarding sexual violence; specifically, the Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, and the Policy against Sexual Violence, which was implemented in Fall 2016. However, such policies are not sufficient to adequately protect survivors. The National Our Turn Action Plan, founded by students at Carleton University and signed onto by SSMU, gave McGill a C- rating for its sexual violence policy. Despite McGill including the entire “McGill Community” in its framework, faculty and students are technically processed differently, compromising comprehensive, clear complaint procedures when allegations arise against faculty members.

Other preventative sexual assault initiatives include, but are not limited to, Rez Project, “How To Frosh” videos before faculty frosh registration, and the Rape Aggression Defence Course (RAD). Although these initiatives are crafted with good intentions, they do not sufficiently address the problem on campus. Rez Project only targets students in residence, which neglects the majority of the McGill student body and all of the faculty. The short “How to Frosh” video only targets students who participate in faculty froshes. The RAD is not being offered this semester and its $20 registration fee makes it less accessible to some students. McGill treats issues such as plagiarism with enough weight to create a mandatory undergraduate and graduate course titled the Academic Integrity Tutorial (AAA 100). In comparison, there is no such mandatory sexual violence prevention training for McGill students.

McGill should capitalize on the impetus of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements by working to prioritize the health of survivors of sexual violence. In the same way that plagiarism is considered a campus-wide issue that requires the help of the Academic Integrity Tutorial, McGill should consider sexual violence an issue with enough weight to create mandatory workshops or courses for all students and faculty. Furthermore, McGill needs to revise and refine its sexual violence policies to better protect students, such as addressing the differences between processing students and faculty, or expanding initiatives like Rez Project, “How To Frosh,” and RAD to better accommodate and address all of the McGill community. Time’s Up and #MeToo have given a voice to survivors of sexual violence to share their trauma, and McGill has a responsibility to listen to the voices of students that are suffering here, too.

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