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Staffing shortages led to temporary closure of McGill’s main sexual violence support service

As a result of staffing shortages, McGill’s central sexual violence support service, the Office for Sexual Violence, Response, Support, and Education (OSVRSE), was forced to close temporarily during the Fall 2022 semester. All active cases were immediately transferred to the Office of the Dean of Students (ODoS), whose case managers have been trained to provide support to survivors and are prepared to assist both with academic accommodations and priority referrals to the Wellness Hub

OSVRSE was created in 2016 as the central support service under McGill’s new Policy Against Sexual Violence. Since its inception, however, it has only been staffed by a maximum of three permanent employees at a time. During Summer 2022, after an employee went on leave, OSVRSE was down to one permanent staff member. According to sources interviewed by The McGill Tribune, OSVRSE was forced to close in early fall so the employee could catch up on the paperwork they were legally required to maintain for ongoing sexual assault cases. 

Given that the ODoS has a student-centric mandate, Arts Senator Sam Baron is confident in its ability to support survivors in the interim. However, Baron is troubled by the lack of transparency which he believes comes from higher-ups in the senior administration. He told the Tribune that he only realized OSVRSE was closed after seeing that bookings were unavailable for the entire month of October. 

“The [senior administration is] very risk-adverse and they don’t want McGill to get bad press regarding its resources for students who have experienced sexual violence, especially because OSVRSE is the primary support mechanism,” Baron said. “But […] I think it’s disingenuous to not tell students when resources have been moved through the university because these resources are so important.”

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS)—a volunteer-run organization that offers support services for survivors—also takes issue with McGill’s lack of communication surrounding the change. A SACOMSS representative told the Tribune that they were only recently informed that OSVSRE responsibilities had been shifted to the ODoS. 

“It is our hope that in the future, the McGill administration will proactively inform on-campus resource-referral services and the student body of any changes that may have a significant impact on survivors,” they wrote via email. 

Since being notified of OSVRSE’s closure, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and SACOMSS have been collaborating with the ODoS to reduce confusion for students seeking support. Maya Willard-Stepan, SSMU’s mental health commissioner, told the Tribune that after she was informed on Nov. 22, representatives from SSMU and SACOMSS met with the Dean of Students, Robin Beech, on Nov. 29, to clarify on OSVRSE’s website that its services had been rerouted to the ODoS. They also advocated for a public announcement to go out to the McGill community, which was sent out on Dec. 4. 

While both Willard-Stepan and SSMU vice-president University Affairs Kerry Yang believe communication from the administration could have been improved, they stressed the importance of letting “bygones be bygones” and focusing on ensuring that survivors can continuously access support services. 

“We’re trying to make sure the resources are as robust as possible before OSVRSE comes back, then we can transition to a period where OSVRSE can once again provide support at a much better capacity than before,” Yang said in an interview with the Tribune

Over the coming months, OSVRSE will expand staffing from two to five permanent positions, with hiring currently underway. Although Willard-Stepan wishes OSVRSE was never in a position to close in the first place, she is glad McGill is taking the opportunity to revamp the office. 

“I am really looking forward to working on rebuilding that relationship in the future,” Willard-Stepan said. “I’m really looking forward to meeting new caseworkers and ensuring that […] [OSVRSE’s] structure is sustainable enough that this never happens again.”

Those in need of support for sexual violence at McGill can reach out to the Office of the Dean of Students to set up an appointment with a Case Manager by emailing [email protected] or calling 514-398-4990.

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