a, Opinion

Sexual assault policies must be inclusive, comprehensive

Here at the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society’s Advocacy Branch (SACOMSS A-Branch), we commend the stance that McGill has taken towards the recent incidents emailed out on Nov. 21. We are happy that they are committing to creating a co-ordinating role to support survivors of sexual assault, and to consulting more fully with the student population on these matters through forums. A-Branch is happy to be heard by the McGill administration, and would like to continue to co-operate with them to achieve the aim of a safer campus and university culture for all.

With this in mind, we have some recommendations for a future sexual assault policy. McGill has a responsibility to articulate a policy ensuring the protection of its members and freedom from sexual assault at the level of both the individual and the community. We believe that any such policy should be tailored to the empowerment of survivors—we firmly emphasize the need for a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus. By zero-tolerance, we mean a strong and actively preventative approach to the issue of sexual assault, but we are unable to comment on disciplinary measures at this time.

Regarding McGill’s most recent commitment to hire a co-ordinator to further the dissemination of information addressing sexual assault within the McGill community, A-branch recommends that this role include supporting survivors, receiving complaints, and providing information regarding the university’s policy and other support resources. Such a person should have previous experience supporting survivors of sexual assault and a working knowledge of McGill’s relevant policies and support services. All of the McGill community (including other employees) ought to be able to consult with a designated member of McGill staff on matters of sexual violence and feel that they are informed and supported in these matters.

We are glad that McGill is looking towards the work of projects such as Rez Project, which can be further improved to address the norms of student life, upon which power imbalances that contribute to sexual assault culture can be perpetuated. We hope that projects like these will continue to cultivate sensitivity to, and understanding of, the issues surrounding sexual assault.

Any new policy must be easily accessible on McGill’s website. The website itself should include an individual section that contains information on the policy itself, as well as resources for survivors such as McGill Counselling and McGill Mental health services on-campus, as well as other Montreal services. Additionally, SACOMSS services, such as Drop in and Line (DIAL), Advocacy Branch, and Support Groups could be highlighted for those seeking more information.

We recommend that the policy be formulated to be receptive to and empower survivors, by allowing them to define their own experiences and empowering them to make their own decisions on how best to deal with those experiences. Any policy must avoid blame culture at any cost, and actively encourage survivors of sexual assault to feel comfortable coming forward with their experiences.

Strong policies are written in consent-based language, as opposed to legalistic or overly technical language. Consent must be defined as a positive consent—i.e. saying ‘yes,’ as opposed to the absence of a ‘no.’ We would also like to see a policy that avoids overly complicated language in favour of clarity and accessibility. Columbia University’s Gender Based Misconduct Policy uses examples and definitions to clarify terms such as sexual assault and consent for readers who are unsure. This is just one of many examples of how a policy can be made clearer.

A-Branch expects a policy fully inclusive towards persons of LGBT*QI identities, which includes but is not limited to gender neutral language. If the policy does refer to examples of sexual assault, we expect that the breadth and diversity of experiences of sexual assault will be respected. The policy should not restrict itself to heteronormative conceptions of sexual assault or any other stereotypes.

A-Branch is committed to advocating on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and their allies, and is open to contributing as much as possible to the continued review and formulation of policy in order to ensure that people receive the most support possible at McGill University. We also provide support to students who seek to navigate the McGill Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination.


For more information about A-Branch email: [email protected]


For help, support or information with experiences of sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination, get in touch, or drop in at SACOMSS.  http://sacomss.org


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