Operationalizing McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence
Sexual violence remains a critical challenge to all university campuses, and McGill is no exception. Last fall, our University adopted its Policy against Sexual Violence. Of late, we have received questions about the Policy, its application and what it means for students, staff and faculty. This article attempts to provide answers to these questions.
To whom does the Policy against Sexual Violence apply?
The Policy applies to every member of the McGill community: students, faculty and administrative and support staff.
This means anyone who has experienced sexual violence can access University support. This is true regardless of whether the act of sexual violence occurred on campus or not, or whether it was perpetrated by a member of the McGill community.
Moreover, any member of the University community can be investigated and disciplined if they commit an act of sexual violence on campus or in the University context. This remains so even if the individual concerned holds a position within a governance body of a student association.
What does the Policy against Sexual Violence do?
The Policy commits to three core principles: supporting survivors; raising awareness about consent and sexual violence; and upholding procedural fairness.
Support for survivors
Support for survivors is channeled through the recently established Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (O-SVRSE). The O-SVRSE is committed to a non-directional approach for survivors, providing them with support and information needed to make their own decisions based on what they determine to be right for them.
Specifically, a survivor who seeks support through the O-SVRSE is entitled to:
- Emotional and crisis support;
- Information about and access to relevant on- and off-campus services (e.g., health, counseling, legal and social services);
- Protection of privacy and confidentiality;
- Freedom from questions that imply blame or judgment;
- An intersectional approach to support and freedom from discrimination;
- Information about, and support and accompaniment in navigating, internal and external (i.e., police) reporting channels, if the survivor chooses to report the incident;
- Coordination with other University offices where accommodations or immediate/emergency measures are warranted; and
- An effort to ensure that they will have to make just one, single disclosure;
The Policy commits the University to cross-campus education on consent and sexual violence, focused on:
- the meaning of consent and the circumstances in which it cannot be given;
- the meaning of scope of sexual violence and the harms it can exert;
- bystander intervention;
- the impact of identity and intersectionality on experiences of sexual violence and on disclosing and reporting;
- responding to disclosures.
The O-SVRSE oversees these education initiatives, which are both general and focused on specific campus groups and events (e.g., frosh, carnival). Education has also extended to members of faculty and staff. Efforts on this front will continue to expand, especially as the Policy commits us to a goal of mandatory education for all McGill community members.
While McGill is committed to supporting survivors, the Policy requires the University to uphold procedural fairness in disciplinary investigations and adjudications. This means that a person alleged to have perpetrated sexual violence must be informed about, and be given a chance to respond to, allegations against them.
While procedural fairness may be seen to protect the interests of the alleged perpetrator, it is broader than this. It preserves the confidentiality of reporting processes, which is to everyone’s benefit. It also ensures that procedures set by University regulations or policies (e.g., Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures) will be followed. This means that any person involved in a disciplinary process will know what to expect, and what their duties and rights are in this context. All of this is essential to fairness.
McGill continues to enhance reporting, investigating and adjudication processes. For example, the Office of the Dean of Students has recently designated specific disciplinary officers to sexual-violence cases. They will be trained to respond to reports effectively, fairly and in a manner that respects dignity and confidentiality.
Moreover, the Policy against Sexual Violence now explicitly obliges the University to respond to reports in a timely manner, and to provide survivors who report with periodic updates about the status of an investigation. This aims to maintain survivors’ ongoing connection to University processes.
Resources and initiatives established under the Policy against Sexual Violence
- Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (O-SVRSE)
550 Sherbrooke West, Suite 585 (West Tower 1-11 Elevator)
As indicated, the O-SVRSE serves as McGill’s hub for sexual violence services. It is the place where a survivor can go to disclose or report an incident of sexual violence. The O-SVRSE coordinates services for survivors, working closely with a range of other McGill offices and actors.
Committee for the Implementation of the Policy against Sexual Violence
This Committee, formed under the Policy, is charged with overseeing the Policy’s initial implementation and with making recommendations to sustain its robust application over time. The Committee will be chaired by Professor Lucy Lach (School of Social Work) and includes equal student-faculty/staff membership.
The Committee will soon begin its work and will report on its conclusions and recommendations in May 2018.
Ad hoc panel to conduct a campus study of sexual violence
This Panel is struck pursuant to the Policy to conduct a study of sexual violence at McGill. It will investigate a series of questions intended to understand the experiences of survivors in disclosing or reporting sexual violence at McGill. The Panel’s inquiry is intended to inform future revisions to McGill policies and processes.
The Panel will be chaired by Professor Shaheen Shariff (Department of Integrated Studies in Education) and includes equal student-faculty/staff membership, as well as an external expert. It will report on its activities, findings and recommendations by 31 March 2018.
Members of the McGill community will be invited to engage with this panel in the year ahead.