Breaking Down the New Sexual Assault Policy

On February 16th, the Sexual Assault Policy (SAP) Working Group – consisting of current and former McGill University students – released the final draft of their Sexual Assault Policy Proposal to the public. The group, which has been working on the initiative for the past two years, now hopes to pass the policy through McGill’s Senate by the end of the semester. According to the Working Group, the policy stands out for being proactive, pro-survivor, anti-oppressive, and accessible.

To better appreciate the context, significance, and future of the policy, the Bull & Bear reached out to three of the Working Group’s members: Talia Gruber, Jean Murray, and Cecilia MacArthur.

B&B: What inspired the drafting of the policy in the first place?
WG: The SAP working group came together in 2012 after 3 McGill football players were charged with sexual assault against a Concordia student. This case demonstrated McGill’s lack of a policy to handle cases of sexual assault that occur in the McGill community. At first, we wrote an open letter to the administration demanding the creation of a policy. After meeting with the Dean of Students, we were tasked with creating this policy ourselves; we are all students or former students of McGill, and many of us have experience working with survivors of sexual assault and their allies).

B&B: What did the Working Group find inadequate with McGill’s current policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination?
WG: There is no explicit mention of sexual assault in that policy – only sexual harassment, which is most often classified as ongoing and repeated –, and it may not include physical harm. Because of this, people who have experienced sexual assault seeking recourse have to proceeded either through the Code of Student Conduct, or through the police.

The policy is not fully confidential or pro-survivor (meaning that the survivor’s wishes to keep the situation confidential may not always be respected, and comprehensive mechanisms for support of the survivor are not in place).

The new policy mentions issues of anti-oppressive practice and intersectionality by accounting for the intersection of various identities with sexual assault (i.e. race, class, ability, gender) in ways that the previous policy does not.

B&B: How would the Working Group respond to arguments that McGill already has enough (formal and informal) mechanisms to prevent and redress instances of sexual assault?
WG: Though there are various mechanisms in place to address sexual assault, McGill has no specific policy about sexual assault. This, in itself, is hugely problematic because though there are mechanisms that can be used to address sexual assault, their main purpose is not sexual assault.

The other mechanism in place, through the Student Code of Conduct, treats sexual assault cases the same way as plagiarism cases:the case is presented in front of a panel of judges with concrete evidence. This does not ensure the safety of survivors, nor does it account for survivors who are looking for support, whether that be through therapy or through class accommodations/deferrals.

Having a policy on sexual assault also shows the University to be clearly against sexual violence on campus, creating a safer space for survivors to come forward. Though the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) and the Harm Reduction Liaison Officer (Bianca Tetrault) both do great work helping survivors of sexual assault, the ability for survivors to use a policy that is designed to support and protect them is lacking, and without a clear stance against sexual violence in a policy, the university atmosphere is often not conducive to minimizing sexual assaults on campus.

One other problem with the lack of sexual assault policy is that there is no institutionalized commitment to addressing consent education, nor other measures to work to create a campus and community free of sexual violence

B&B: On November 13, 2014 the Working Group opened the policy up for student feedback; what were some of the main concerns, and how have they been addressed?
WG: A year ago, the Working Group was primarily focused on passing a policy, since it had been almost a year since we had started writing. However, upon opening our draft at the time to feedback, we were informed that our policy proposal did not adequately address intersectionality.

Since then, we have consulted with numerous groups and individuals (including the Senate subcommittees on Women, Queer People, Racialized and Ethnic Persons, the Office for Students with Disabilities, the Black Students’ Network, and Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE)) to ensure that we are accounting for the intersections between sexual assault, and the identities a person may hold. It has taken us almost half a year to incorporate this feedback, and our final draft was released only when we felt we had adequately incorporated these concerns.

B&B: Is there a risk that McGill’s Senate or Board of Governors will turn away the policy?
WG: Right now, we are working with Andre Costopoulos (the Dean of Students) to edit the Policy Proposal. We hope that it will be passed more easily through the Senate. The administration has expressed concern that some of what is in the current policy should be moved to an implementation guide, which is more fluid and can be changed more easily.

B&B: Do you expect the administration or the Working Group to make any revisions to the policy?
WG: We are working with the administration on what to take out of the Policy Proposal, but also remaining firm about our original vision. We, along with many campus groups/other stakeholders, have put in a ton of labor and research into the draft we have published, and believe it is fit to be passed.

B&B: What is the next step to getting the policy institutionalized?
WG: Right now, we are in negotiations with the Dean of Students and Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity), where we are discussing changes to make to the policy before passing it through Senate. After this, we hope to mobilize students, professors, staff, and members of Senate and get endorsements for the policy so that it is easier to pass through Senate. We hope to bring the policy to Senate by the end of the semester.


The draft of the new policy can be found here.