Things to remember on the journey of (re)discovering sex 

By: Matthew Aksamit, contributor 

CW: sexual assault, rape culture 

This is written from the personal perspective of the writer. Everyone’s experience looks and feels different and can by no means be blanketed by a single perspective. This article has been edited by The Silhouette and Student Health Education Centre for clarity. 

Right off the bat, I feel the need to clarify what I mean by sexual assault. After all, we are in a capitalist institution in which the normalization of rape culture is not only perpetuated, but also thrives — the university. I have heard countless “justifications” of assault: they were drinking or otherwise intoxicated; they were wearing provocative clothing; they were alone in a bad neighbourhood; or it does not count because it was their partner. The list goes on. There are also complexities when it comes to legal definitions of assault.  

So, when I say this article is primarily for survivors of sexual assault, who am I talking about? Ultimately, I am talking about anyone who believes I am talking about them. If you are vocal about your experience or hesitant to share it, if you have pursued legal measures or if you have not, if you feel that twinge in your stomach every time you hear the word assault, or if you do not even know what to call your experience, if you are someone who has had a non-consensual encounter of a sexual nature, this is for you. These are the things I wish I knew and while I know it will not fix everything, I hope it helps.  

Sexual desire after assault manifests differently for every survivor! 

While some individuals may experience a reduced sexual drive (hyposexuality) as a result of sexual assault, some may experience the opposite (hypersexuality). It is important to note that both, in addition to falling anywhere on the spectrum of sexual desire, are equally valid reactions to trauma. The way you feel after assault should never be used to diminish or invalidate your experience. My personal experience manifested in hypersexuality and represented an effort to reclaim control over a narrative in which I previously didn’t have it. 

Boundaries are your new best friend!  

No, really! They are there to help make sure you are doing what makes you feel safe, comfortable and sexy. Boundaries are interlocked with consent and both are necessary to ensure a) this is sex, which requires consent to differentiate it from trauma and/or assault and b) you get to do the things that actively excite and please you!  

Boundaries also extend far beyond the realm of sex and practicing establishing boundaries in other areas of your life, such as saying “no” to an event you really do not want to attend, can help make it feel more natural.  

Give yourself time and space to mourn and heal! 

One of the things I struggled with most after being assaulted was what to do after. I am very much the kind of person to try and shrug things off, get back to work and bury myself in things. Unfortunately, this meant I never really processed the trauma until it started affecting me months later. I had nightmares, panic attacks and, above all, I was confused as to what I should do.  

This is where giving myself a space to mourn and heal came in. Creating a safe(r) space for myself meant surrounding myself with close friends who gave me their support and presence when it came to seeking medical care and contacting a mental health professional and a doctor. I was lucky enough to be able to see a therapist for free for a few months. Through these sessions I was able to talk through my experiences while being heard, supported and validated, all of which were necessary in my journey. 

I also realize, however, that therapy is not available for everyone due to financial and other barriers, so I would also like to mention some free local and campus-based resources: the Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton and Area) offers a 24/7 survivor support line, the Student Health Education Centre offers anonymous, confidential pregnancy testing, peer support and referrals to local services, the Women and Gender Equity Network offers support to all victims of sexual and gender-based violence and the Pride Community Centre offers support to 2SLGBTQIA+ and questioning individuals. The Student Wellness Centre also offers valuable resources to students.  

You deserve peace and goodness! 

When I was assaulted, in some twisted way, I thought I somehow deserved it. I thought it was my fault and I was ultimately responsible for my own unhappiness. I struggled and, to this day, struggle with the notion that I am a bad person. While this has not completely faded from my life, one of the things that has helped has been trying to take note of the inherent dignity I have and deserve because I am a human being. I am not perfect but in no way does this make me at fault for the situations in which I was taken advantage of.  

So, what does sex after assault look like? Well, it looks different for everybody. What is important to remember is healing happens at a different pace for everyone and your path is not abnormal because it does not line up with someone else’s. And remember, as long as there is consent, there is no such thing as doing sex wrong! Explore, have fun and know you deserve all the light the sun has to offer.    

C/O Stepan Unar, Unsplash

Man arrested following an attack on Caleb’s Walk

CW: assault 

Hamilton is home to a number of hiking trails and waterfalls, providing community members with the opportunity to head outdoors and enjoy nature views. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor activities have also garnered rising popularity as people search for activities and recreation to entertain themselves with. 

However, heavily wooded areas in Hamilton have also been susceptible to dangerous activity in the last several years. Given the popularity of hiking among the student body, students at McMaster University should remain aware of the potential dangers associated with visiting trails. 

Most recently on Sept. 30, 2021, an individual was assaulted while walking alone on Caleb’s Walk trail. Caleb’s Walk is one of the many trails of the Cootes Paradise sanctuary and is located next to the Westdale neighbourhood, off of Dalewood Crescent and Oak Knoll Drive. 

Hamilton Police Service released a request for assistance in identifying the assault suspect the next day, detailing suspect descriptions and asking residents to review their video surveillance footage. 

On Oct. 5, 28-year-old Tony Robert Gordon was arrested for the assault. Gordon is facing charges of assault causing bodily harm, four counts of failing to comply with probation and drug possession. 

According to HPS, the assault was a random attack of violence. 

Gordon is facing charges of assault causing bodily harm, four counts of failing to comply with probation and drug possession. According to HPS, the assault was a random attack of violence.

Unfortunately, this assault was not the only one that has taken place in Hamilton trails. In April of 2019, a woman was struck with an object and sexually assaulted on another Hamilton trail, Bruce Trail. 

Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest trail, running 900 km from Niagara to Tobermory, passing Hamilton in-between. 

The victim was assaulted while walking from the Dundurn stairs down the Bruce Trail when she stopped after hearing someone call out to her. 

The HPS did not release any further updates to this investigation nor was an arrest announced. 

Also on Bruce Trail, an arrest was made in 2017 after an individual walking alone was approached by a man with a knife and forced into a quiet area. 

The suspect was arrested in this case and HPS charged 28-year-old Shane Stevens with sexual assault with a weapon and two times of breach of probation. 

With the Cootes Paradise area in close proximity to McMaster University, hiking on trails has been a popular outdoor activity for many students. However, the danger associated with walking alone on Hamilton trails has not been foreign to students. 

A number of recreational trails are also available within the McMaster Forest. McMaster has noted that such trails, however, are mainly unmaintained. 

Random assaults, such as the ones mentioned above, are unfortunate occurrences that most do not expect when visiting trails. It is important that students remain vigilant as they visit trails and take the necessary precautions to keep themselves safe.

Graphic by Katarina Brkic

Two long weeks after The Silhouette released an article regarding the gaps within the McMaster Students Union sexual violence disclosure processes, MSU President Ikram Farah finally released a statement.

The statement, which reads as a rambling pat on the back, condemns sexual violence and commits to a systematic review of the Maroons and the MSU as a whole, something that two Maroons representatives brought forward when they suggested a full audit of the service back in September 2018.

In the fall, a regularly scheduled service audit was conducted in which Maroons representatives made it known that an additional reporting tool would be useful. They also noted that the MSU’s workplace policy on harassment, discrimination and sexual violence should be more survivor-centric.

In response, the MSU vice president (Administration), Kristina Epifano, developed an online reporting tool and reportedly consulted with volunteers, staff and experts to update the workplace policy. But once released, it was discovered that this online reporting tool was not nearly as thorough or inclusive as the Maroons representatives had hoped.

Additionally, there is no evidence that the board of directors made any effort to lay the groundwork for investigation of sexual assault within the Maroons.

These Maroons representatives spent six months advocating for a full service review of the Maroons that focused on sexual assault. It was only when they made a public report to The Silhouette that the MSU president pledged to begin investigating sexual assault within the service.

Farah’s statement comes two weeks too late and six months after the fact that the two Maroons representatives reported the culture of sexual assault within the Maroons to Epifano.

The fact is that over the course of the two weeks following release of our article, the Maroons were actively hiring new representatives and ignoring the calls to action from the McMaster community.

Though Farah stated that Maroons events will be suspended for the time being while the review is underway, it is unclear whether the Maroons will be involved in Welcome Week this fall.

There’s a lot to say about the statement. We could mention that within the statement, Farah makes a note that she personally has not found any “actual reports” of sexual violence within the Maroons team this year. While she does acknowledge that the lack of reporting does not mean that harassment or assault hasn’t occurred, this tangent is absolutely unnecessary and self-praising.

What’s more is Farah’s claim that the MSU’s “practices and disclosure protocols are exemplary of the sector.”

What does exemplary mean if the practices and disclosure policies have not been consistent, thorough nor inclusive before these past few months? In what way is taking two weeks to release a statement regarding the matter exemplary?

Within the MSU, the lines between personal and professional are constantly blurred. Given that the MSU has consistently protected individuals accused of sexual assault, it is no surprise that survivors may not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual assault.

Whether the perpetrator was a member of the Student Representative Assembly or a presidential candidate, the MSU has continuously failed to support survivors.

This is indicative of a larger issue within the MSU: there is no independent human resources department to respond to complaints and initiate reviews.
Maroons representatives spent six months advocating for change, and it took two weeks and dozens of community members, volunteers and MSU employees taking to social media to demand a response from the Maroons coordinator and have the MSU commit to a full service review.

In order to properly address sexual assault at a systemic level, the MSU needs to overhaul its sexual assault policy and oversight process.

The MSU has proven time and time again that it is poorly equipped to properly respond to sexual assault allegations. It is left entirely up to the board of directors to ensure that policies are upheld, but they are not trained or qualified to respond to issues of this magnitude.

The MSU needs an independent HR department to consistently and proactively address concerns so that students do not have to turn to public disclosure in order to initiate a review process.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

From the Student Representative Assembly requiring a survivor to disclose their assault in order for the removal of a perpetrator on the assembly to news of rampant sexual assault within the McMaster Students Union Maroons, this past year has been filled with controversy.

Given the events of this year, and what has occurred in the past, it is shocking that the MSU lacks a formal human resources department.

HR departments exist to deal with workplace disputes and ultimately ensure that employees are aware of their rights as minimally outlined by the Ontario Employment Standards Act. This includes the creation, implementation and enforcement of policies and structures that support employee rights like formal complaint structures and disciplinary policies.

Currently, the only HR presence that exists within the MSU is through the operations coordinator, Maddison Hampel. Though Hampel has formalized HR training and experience, her role does not allow her to adequately support all HR functions of the MSU.

Unfortunately, the only HR-focused training for student employees ends at the mandatory online workplace health and safety training modules that all employees of McMaster University are required to complete.

The majority of student employees, myself included, have never even been formally introduced to Hampel or made aware of our employment rights during our training sessions.

If we had a formal HR department, it is extremely likely that the Maroons sexual assault allegations would have been dealt with appropriately.

In fact, with a proper HR department, policies for sexual assault and workplace harassment would likely already be in place, and be created by individuals with the expertise to do so.

A formal HR department could also allow for better and more comprehensive hiring practices wherein individuals who were previously reported to the department are properly dealt with and not re-hired for other positions within the MSU, a consistent problem of the institution.

At the very least, an HR department that is independent of the MSU could allow student workers to feel comfortable reporting any issues. As it stands, I report my workplace issues to my direct supervisors, but this gets complicated if my concerns are about individuals in positions of power.

An HR department can ensure supervisors are accountable for their actions and held to an expected level of professionalism.   

Josh Marando, president-elect of the MSU for the 2019-2020 year, has acknowledged that the lack of a formal HR department is an issue. One of his platform points is to restructure the internal operations of the MSU.

According to his #BuildTogether platform, he plans to divide the current full-time staff position of operations coordinator to create a specific HR coordinator who is independent from the board.

While the operations coordinator’s role would be shifted to focus largely on supporting clubs and internal operations, the proposed HR coordinator is meant to “support our students through connecting with university programs that have a focus on equity and anti-discrimination.”

Though creation of an independent HR coordinator is an important first step, it is not enough. The MSU is comprised of over 40 full-time permanent staff and 300 part-time student staff. A singular HR coordinator cannot possibly support this vast number of employees.

The lumping of the HR coordinator role with equity and anti-discrimination programs can also be problematic. Certainly the future HR coordinator can and should consult with equity groups to ensure their policies are consistent with student needs, but it is important that the two ultimately remain separate.

This is because it is possible that issues concerning diversity and discrimination may arise from the HR department. This would then make it difficult for individuals to report issues to the same department where the issues stem from.

What the MSU needs is a full-blown autonomous HR department, with policies in place and trained personnel. Only through implementation of an HR department can the MSU truly account for the safety of its student employees.

It’s important to remember that students employed by the MSU are employees. They deserve the same respect and safety enforced by a HR department in any other workplace.

Honestly, student workers should be unionized to ensure their rights are defended. Until they are, the MSU must do a better job in the 2019-2020 year of protecting their employees through implementation of formal HR resources and personnel.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

The McMaster Students Union and McMaster University are preparing to re-examine their policies and protocols on sexual violence in light of the recent Student Voices on Sexual Violence report released by the provincial government earlier this month.

The Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey was sent out last year and involved 160,000 students from over 40 Ontario post-secondary institutions outlining their experiences of sexual violence and harassment.  

According to the survey, three in five McMaster students disclosed at least one experience of sexual harassment.

Sixty-one per cent of McMaster students said they do not have knowledge of McMaster’s sexual violence supports and services.

A McMaster Daily News article responding to the report states that McMaster has provided sexual violence prevention and response training to more than 8,600 students, staff and faculty over the past year.

Arig al Shaibah, McMaster’s associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion), said the university’s sexual violence education team will begin planning a bystander intervention training program in April.

In response to the report, the university will also shortly be reviewing the McMaster’s sexual violence policy, which was created in 2017.

“We are just in the beginning processes of looking at the policy,” al Shaibah said. “We know the numbers that come through our offices are not necessarily indicative of the full picture, so periodically going out there and being able to anonymously get a good gauge of people’s experiences and perceptions is really important.”

Every year, the EIO releases a report highlighting statistics on disclosures of sexual violence and harassment.

However, al Shaibah said the EIO needs to make sure that definitions used to classify disclosures are standardized.

“We have just improved the way we are collecting and centralizing data,” al Shaibah said. “Moving forward, one of the things we are doing is trying to make sure that everyone in the intake office is using the same definition so that we can start to capture trend data over time.”

MSU vice president (Administration) Kristina Epifano will be revising the current “Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Assault Prevention Policy” in response to the survey.

“With these revisions, we will host some feedback sessions, inviting student-staff and volunteers to share some of the challenges they've experienced with policies in the past and recommendations they would like to see moving forward,” Epifano said in an email. “I believe it is important to adapt the policy to highlight different options and courses of action that a survivor can take during the process.”

The provincial report comes against the backdrop of multiple allegations of sexual assault within the MSU Maroons.

On March 29, Farah released a statement addressing the subject, promising a formal investigation.

Nevertheless, Farah states that she hasn’t “found actual reports, anonymous or otherwise, of sexual violence within the Maroons team this year.”

The statement also said Epifano will be standardizing an anonymous online reporting tool used for Marrons for all MSU volunteers.

Jocelyn Heaton, the coordinator of the MSU Women and Gender Equity Network, said the MSU’s steps in addressing sexual violence are helpful, but there remains a lot of work to be done.

“The fact that less than three quarters of students know that there are supports and services available is pretty harmful for people who experience sexual violence,” said Heaton. “Also, knowing that a lot of that group is going to receive a disclosure during their time at university and they're not going to know where to refer people to is harmful as well,” she said.

Heaton also mentioned that there has been no consultation thus far with services like WGEN when it comes to the Maroons incident and revising the MSU’s workplace sexual assault prevention policy.

“As the coordinator of a service, the only service specifically meant to address sexual violence, I was never once consulted or brought in to talk about that situation,” Heaton said. “Students have not been consulted on what the policy should look like.”

 

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Photo by Kyle West

When I started out as the Opinions Editor for The Silhouette this past year, I admittedly didn’t care much about student politics or governance. I was unfamiliar with the policies of the McMaster Students Union and had no idea what happened during Student Representative Assembly meetings.

Nowadays, I regularly watch the SRA livestreams and perform my due diligence to be aware of changes occurring within the MSU. A large part of that is for my job, but I’ve found that staying informed has benefits beyond finding something to write about.

The purpose of the MSU is to “represent you and to help build a better community for all students”. As the governing body of the MSU, SRA members have a responsibility to represent and lobby on behalf of their students.

It’s only fair then that we as students hold these members, and the MSU in general, accountable for their actions. In doing so, we are ensuring that any changes occurring are truly reflective of the needs and desires of students.

There’s many ways for students can hold these organizations accountable. They can attend SRA meetings, speak to their SRA representative, voice their concerns online or even protest for change.

Alternatively, you can do what I do, and write about your concerns for the campus newspaper. Perhaps some of my criticisms have been harsh or slightly misguided. But at the end of the day, I’m proud of the articles that I’ve written and edited for The Silhouette. Even if they have stepped on some toes, I’d like to think they’ve helped incite some positive changes on campus.

Whether these changes are a fully-stocked Union Market or investigations into MSU-recognized clubs, it’s evident that speaking out on issues is important.

Not everything the SRA or MSU has done has been negative. In fact, they have made some great, positive changes that are deserving of praise, or at the very least, of respect.

A few weeks ago, I had plans to write about the SRA’s contradictory playing of the national anthem and delivery of a land acknowledgment at their meetings. To my surprise, I found that they passed a motion to stop playing the national anthem at their meetings altogether. Things like these are positive changes that students should be aware of.  

Of course, there is only so much that students can do. Given the record eight students who attended the General Assembly on March 20, it is obvious that the MSU must do a better job at engaging with their student constituents.

But just because the MSU and SRA have much to improve doesn’t mean that students are off the hook for staying informed. Without student input and advocacy efforts, organizations are given too much power and can make decisions that negatively impact us all.

For example, without the efforts of a few brave survivors telling their experiences with sexual assault within the MSU Maroons, it’s unlikely that the service would be doing anything to account for the issue, much less propose developing a long-overdue sexual assault and harassment policy.

I encourage students to get engaged with their university’s politics. It might seem overwhelming, and the information is certainly not easy to navigate, but it’s important work.

Especially in light of the upcoming changes to post-secondary education made by the provincial government, it is in the best interests of all students to be engaged with their union’s activities.

My term at The Silhouette is reaching a close. I’ve learned a lot during my time working for the newspaper but my biggest takeaway is that student politics affects us all, including those outside of the MSU bubble. For our own sake, we ought to keep our student organizations accountable for their actions.

 

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Photo C/O Kyle West

Here’s a look at five major provincial, Hamilton and McMaster stories that hit the newscycle last week.

 

1. Provincial government releases sexual assault survey results

After falling under scrutiny this winter for not releasing the results of the Ontario-wide Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey, the Ontario government finally published the report in full.

The survey, which was sent out last year, asked students to outline their experiences with sexual violence at their post-secondary institution.

The results of the survey, released on March 19, also describe the experiences of sexual assault and violence McMaster students have had while completing their degrees. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

More information about the results of the survey, including McMaster University and McMaster Students Union’s response to them, will be included in the Silhouette’s April 4 issue.

 

2. New study suggests ‘clear relationship” between mental health and precarious employment

A new McMaster-affiliated study underscores the strong link between precarious employment and mental health, offering a snapshot into the mental health of precariously employed millennials in Hamilton.

The comprehensive 103-page study reveals the results of the 89-question online Hamilton Millennial Survey, which surveyed nearly 1,200 employed millennials living in Hamilton last year.

 

3. Hamilton-based white supremacist Paul Fromm under investigation for ties to New Zealand manifesto

Following the massacre of 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Hamilton Police Services launched an investigation into Paul Fromm, a Hamilton-based white supremacist. Fromm recently ran for mayor in the 2017 municipal election and received 706 votes.

 

4. Hamilton declares state of climate change emergency

As part of a global push to confront climate change, Hamilton has joined hundreds of other municipalities, voting to declare a climate emergency last Monday.

5. McMaster students call for sweeping changes to education

On March 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., students marched through the McMaster University Student Centre and protested outside of the building’s courtyard, demanding radical changes to the post-secondary education system.

The protest was part of the Red Spring campaign and launched by the Revolutionary Student Movement, an anti-capitalist organization on campus.

Some of the demands of the protest include:

While there are no definitive plans for another protest, Khan notes that the campaign will not end anytime soon.

 

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Jacqueline McNeill

CW: Mentions of sexual assault

It’s no secret that McMaster University’s “Brighter World” campaign has not been well-received by students, as demonstrated by recent actions by student protestors who replaced the slogan with “Whiter World” on a protest banner and distributed “Whiter World” posters in Dec. 2018.

Besides encouraging racist and ableist ideologies of what a “good”, “smart” or “bright” student is, the Brighter World campaign clashes with the problematic histories of the wealthy, white men that McMaster happily accepts money from; namely from Ron Joyce and Michael DeGroote.

With the recent passing of Joyce, McMaster released a statement claiming that he was a “generous philanthropist, a dedicated volunteer and a great friend to McMaster.”

"He was enthusiastic and committed to making a difference in so many ways, and he will be greatly missed," says McMaster president @PatrickDeane37. Ron Joyce was a generous philanthropist and a dedicated volunteer. We are saddened by his loss. | https://t.co/o73r3l3UKj

— McMaster University (@McMasterU) February 1, 2019

This statement, as well as every narrative McMaster has put forward about Joyce, overlooks the sexual assault allegations against the billionaire in addition to numerous other lawsuits against him. The allegations of these suits include intentional infliction of mental suffering, cheating Lori Horton out of her share of the Tim Horton’s franchise, and more.

Joyce attempted to have the sexual assault suit against him dropped, but the Appeal Court ruled in 2017 that the allegations warranted a trial. At this trial, Joyce maintained that he gave the victim $50,000 as “a gesture of friendship” rather than money to bribe her away. He denied that any assault had occurred, despite the $50,000 in perceived hush money.

The fact that McMaster never cut ties or removed Joyce’s name from our school after these allegations is telling for students.

Amidst the current discussion of how McMaster and the McMaster Students Union treat sexual assault cases and survivors, McMaster’s friendship with Joyce reveals where their priorities lie.

As long as Joyce’s sexual assault trial is left unacknowledged, McMaster continues to send the message that they value capital over the safety and mental health of students and survivors.

McMaster has also explicitly supported Michael DeGroote after his murky financial escapades came to light.

DeGroote, whose name is on our business and medical schools, invested in a casino business venture that initially appeared to be just that. However, he continued to invest even when it was evident that there was organized crime involvement in the venture.

Although it could be argued that DeGroote was unaware of this — however ignorant he’d have to be for this to be the case — he was recorded promising to send $150,000 “no strings attached” to a man who had offered to create evidence to prove that the brothers who started the casino venture had defrauded DeGroote.

“There’s ways of buying evidence, but it’s got to be done right,” DeGroote said in the recording.

Despite the overwhelming evidence generated from a year-long investigation by the CBC and the Globe and Mail, McMaster reaffirmed to CBC that DeGroote is a “thoughtful, visionary, and very generous man,” while refusing to address if DeGroote’s involvement with mafia activity would change the way they accept money from him in the future.

The names of Ron Joyce and Michael DeGroote on our campus are a constant reminder of how little McMaster values its students, and that Mac administration will let anything slide if the donation is big enough. Even if McMaster is unlikely to alter the names of these buildings and schools, it is crucial for students to be aware of where funding for them came from, and the therefore hypocritical nature of McMaster’s Brighter World.

If McMaster truly aims to create a Brighter World which campaigns for the “health and well-being of all”, they can start by scrubbing off these stains on our campus.

 

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One of the biggest talking points that most candidates make when running for a seat on the Student Representative Assembly is transparency. The word has been tossed around so much that it has basically become a buzzword. But transparency is more than just a talking point; it’s an incredibly important behaviour that the SRA needs to adopt.

During the SRA meeting on Jan. 20, the SRA discussed how they can make their assembly more survivor-centric. Namely, a motion was passed to task the vice president (Administration), in collaboration with the sexual violence response coordinator Meaghan Ross, to develop an amendment to the constitution which includes an emergency response procedure for sexual violence.

This occurred after an SRA member was accused of engaging in sexual assault and another member supported that member. As of now, the SRA cannot ask these members to step down from their positions, only suggest that they should.

The proposed changes to the constitution could allow the SRA to remove such members from their assembly. This is important news in support of survivors, but unfortunately this information has not been made widely available.

Navigating the SRA website is far from an easy task. While the interface itself is user-friendly, information is difficult to find. For example, one would think that meeting minutes from SRA meetings would be listed under SRA minutes but this webpage only contains broken links from April 2018. The actual minutes from SRA meetings are posted under SRA documents amidst other documents and memos.

The minutes themselves are lengthy and filled with unfamiliar jargon that the average student should not be expected to know. This length and volume leads to the vast majority of students not reading the minutes and remaining unaware of the changes that are occurring within the university.

Beyond the content of the minutes, it is also unclear when the meeting minutes are posted. Two weeks ago, on Jan. 9, I was searching for the Jan. 6 meeting minutes, found nothing, and was forced to watch the hour-long livestream to understand what happened.

Though the Jan. 6 meeting minutes are posted now, they are posted under the Jan. 20 heading. I’m not sure when they were posted considering that nowhere on the SRA site do they state when they post meeting minutes after each meeting. Students should not be expected to consistently check the site or watch hours of livestream footage to stay informed.  

Instead, minutes should be posted as soon as they are available. A three-day turnaround seems more than reasonable.

If the meeting minutes take long to post, at the very least the SRA or its individual caucuses should create summary documents for students to review. These documents can forgo the jargon and essentially list the important details that were discussed.

Students interested for more information can then consult the meeting minutes, or better yet, review a transcript of the livestream, which remain available to view after the meetings occur. I understand that it is difficult to transcribe a live meeting however, in the interests of accessibility, SRA meetings should be transcribed afterwards to allow individuals who require accommodations the ability to access the livestream videos.

Moreso, when watching the Jan. 20 livestream, a comment was made that some of the information that was discussed would not be included in the meeting minutes. There must be a reason — not all comments made are deemed important enough to include in the minutes — but if the SRA would like to be considered transparent, these comments should be made available for students to interpret on their own. A transcript of the meetings could provide this transparency.

This is not the first time that the SRA has been called out for its lack of transparency. As a governing body that is meant to represent the entire student body of McMaster University, the SRA has a responsibility to do better. The SRA is making some important, positive changes for the university — if only students were aware.

 

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WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of rape and mention of suicide.

I was a Welcome Week representative in 2012, and I met John Doe*, a fellow rep, through some friends. We didn’t work directly together, but he hung out with us often. I thought he was funny, we had the same taste in music, but I never thought of him as anything more. My friends were close to him, and I liked my friends, so it all seemed great. It was after our fourth encounter with each other that he raped me.

It was the day of the Yates Cup. I had gone to a friend’s before the match for some drinks. I was happily drunk but felt the cold November wind hitting my cheeks as the game crept closer to half time. My friends texted me that they were at TwelvEighty and there was an extra seat for me.

As I entered TwelvEighty, I saw John and my friends. I had run out of money and waved my debit card around, asking for a drink. The bartender said that if I had no cash, I had to buy a pitcher in order to use my card. I did so and ended up drinking most of it.

John got up and stretched, and announced that he was going to go for a walk. I was beginning to feel nauseous and figured that joining him would be a good way to sober up. We walked until we found a stairwell. He sat on the stairwell while I fell on them. I remember his face getting closer to mine slowly. He kissed me and I could hear footsteps approaching. People passed by, the match was still going on. I felt exposed and uncomfortable.

I suggested to him that we should go into a private room. I wanted to talk and I wanted for us to be alone. I wasn’t thinking about kissing him more. To be honest, I genuinely wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, I was just drunk. I know I didn’t encourage him, but I clearly didn’t express myself as properly as I wished.

We went into a room in the arts quad basement. He turned off the light and I sat on the ground as standing had become too tricky.

He pulled his pants down and tried to shove himself into my mouth. I was frozen. Somewhere in the back of my mind the phrase “freeze, fight or flight” popped up, and I cursed myself for having the worst reaction.

“Get on that bench.” he said. At that point in time I was so dumbfounded that any short instruction seemed sensible. He pulled off my jeans. I realized what his intentions were, and mustered up the strength to cover myself with both of my hands and said loudly, “No. Stop. I don’t want to. No. Stop.”

I remember him pulling my hands away. He pressed his lips against mine, hard. I remember hearing him grunt, and the occasional loud cheer from TwelvEighty came through the walls. My insides were screaming for my body to get up, to punch, to do anything, but I was incapable of moving. I was scared of his strength. Not physical, as he was short and smaller than me, but his mental strength – the fact that he ignored my pleas frightened me.

Something began to buzz in the room: my friends whom I left outside at the game were attempting to find me. They kept calling. Eventually, he stopped. I had sobered up enough by then to hop off the piano bench, pull up my pants, pick up my phone. We left the room and he headed back to TwelvEighty while I made a beeline for MUSC. As I left he called out, “See you around, eh?”

Somewhere in the back of my mind the phrase “freeze, fight or flight” popped up, and I cursed myself for having the worst reaction. 

I went to the Student Centre and ran into my friends. The shock settled in minutes after and I told my friends what had happened. They took me to Shoppers to buy a Plan B.

The next few days blurred together. I showered for 45 minutes washing every inch of my skin, hoping that the harder I scrubbed, the less dirty I’d feel. I couldn’t sleep. School didn’t matter. I lived off-campus and I would leave the house earlier because I didn’t want to face my parents.

I told my friends later on that day. It was confusing to them because they knew him for years. They said they believed me, but within that week they also told me that he made a mistake and they would remain friends with him.

John Doe called me the very next day and told me he knew I told our mutual friends, and that I was wrong. He declared he did have consent because I took him to the private room. A few days after this, I was with a friend, who was also a good friend of John Doe, but was supporting me during this time. John Doe called me, and I put it on speaker so she could hear what he was saying. He warned me again not to tell anyone, and claimed I was being ridiculous. “Am I always supposed to ask a girl if she wants to have sex with me?” he said in a sarcastic tone. I was stunned. His friend looked at me with an unfathomable expression. I hung up.

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My close friends were trying to convince me to report him, but even I was confused as to whether this was rape or not.

I even went to my old high school and confronted two of my closest teachers about what had happened. It hurt me to tell my friends and teachers. I’d see their faces register shock, worry, sadness, frustration, but I didn’t know what else to do. It felt as though I had such a big weight on my shoulders, and it had become too much for me to carry it by myself. I had to tell people who knew who I really was, who knew me before this happened, so I could cling onto my sense of self.

However, I also told people I regret telling. I shared what had happened with friends I wasn’t really close with. At the time, I thought that telling people would help bring some sense into this situation. However, the thoughts some shared with me confused me even more:

“Well, you did tell him to go into that room with you…”

“You were really drunk…”

“You are a super friendly person, so he just mistook that as flirting…”

“I’m not sure if this is considered rape because you probably enjoyed yourself once you started having sex, right?”

Another friend approached me at university one day and handed me a brochure explaining rape and that was when it finally clicked for me. I was raped. Some of my other close friends encouraged me to attend counselling, but it wasn’t until I saw the brochure that I did.

When telling the police, I had to replay every single thing in my mind. It felt like picking at the scabs of a wound that was trying to heal. We had to figure out how long John Doe and I were in the private room, and calculated that I was raped for 45 minutes. 

Two weeks after the incident, I went to see a counsellor in the Student Wellness Centre. My counsellor was nice enough but I felt rushed having to explain what had happened within my 30-minute time slot. It took me 10 minutes to stop crying. She referred me to the hospital and I headed there after my appointment.

Because I didn’t go there straightaway and had showered after being raped, they could not get his semen off my body. Instead, I underwent a physical exam and a mini counselling session. They took my urine sample and I had to take a pregnancy test. Afterwards, they gave me a handful of crushed up pills and water, telling me that these would wipe out any sort of STDs I could have contracted from him.

Within a month after it happened, I attempted suicide. To summarize it all into one sentence: I felt like a failure, like a used up rag that needed to be disposed. I am grateful that it was a botched attempt, and that I had friends around me who let me talk to them openly about it and made me realize it was not the way out.

One month after being raped, I contacted the city’s Sexual Assault unit and talked to a police officer on the phone. We arranged for them to meet me at a friend’s house, where they would interview me and fill out a report. At the time, that was the hardest thing I had to go through. When I told my friends or teachers what had happened, I was able to skip some parts. I was able to provide a summary. When telling the police, I had to replay every single thing in my mind. It felt like picking at the scabs of a wound that was trying to heal. We had to figure out how long John Doe and I were in the private room, and calculated that I was raped for 45 minutes.

I ended up going to the police station about a week afterwards and had an interview with the police. He said he met with John Doe and spoke with him. He asked if I wanted to take this to court, and added that it would take one year. I turned it down. I didn’t want this to drag on. Because I said no, it only says on John Doe’s profile that he was questioned for rape, but that’s it. The police officer patted me on the shoulder as I was leaving and said, “Take care of yourself. Next time, try not to get yourself into this sort of situation, like the drinking...”

The following summer, I found out that John Doe was going to be a Welcome Week rep again. I contacted friends involved with Welcome Week and was referred to the Office of Student Conduct. I went to their office and told them everything. They informed me that had I approached them right after it had happened, they could have done more. John Doe could have faced more serious consequences. I had no idea that I could have approached the Student Conduct Office. I wish I had known, and hope that more information is given to first years about it now.

The office asked me if I could provide a witness. I immediately thought of his close friend that overheard our phone call after it happened. I messaged her and explained the situation. She sent back a lengthy response, acknowledging that she heard what John Doe said, but that she wouldn’t be able to be a witness for me. She added that I seemed to be holding a grudge and keeping in some pent-up anger. She then closed the message saying that her and other friends were also upset about what happened, but they found ways to move on. Her closing sentence was wishing me all the best. I was disgusted, and still am as I type this.

I showed the office the message, and since she acknowledged what John Doe had said, that was all he needed. He told me that he would meet with John Doe and that he would be monitored at all times during Welcome Week. He also said that John Doe wasn’t allowed to approach me on campus, and that I could call security if he did. While that was comforting, that wasn’t the point of my actions. I didn’t want him to harm anyone ever again, especially first year students.

The conduct officer advised me to go to the Human Rights and Equity office, which I did. I met with someone who was extremely nice and warm. It was comforting to open up to such a wonderful person. She informed me of an upcoming event SACHA, the Sexual Assault Center for the Hamilton Area, was hosting at Mac, which was aimed towards friends of sexual assault victims. I attended the session with one of my great friends.

After being raped by someone who I thought was my friend, the most difficult part was letting go of my friends who still supported him. It genuinely crushed me to have my friends tell me they still considered John Doe a friend. One friend messaged me an apology this spring, saying that she finally sees how horrible John Doe is, and that she will always regret not supporting me. Her message was what I had wanted for so long, but when she finally sent it to me, it had lost its value. I had to go through the rest of my undergrad avoiding my Welcome Week friends and certain parts of MUSC where they hung out.

I would think about it at least once every single day for the first year. I would find myself taking the car and driving to a random parking lot to break down and cry without any interruptions. I’d cringe every time I heard a rape joke, pretend I wasn’t affected while inwardly accepting the fact that the joke would stay in my mind for the rest of the day. I began to join numerous clubs and kept busy. I picked up more shifts at work to avoid being home.

Some days, I would have such a good time with friends that it wouldn’t be until I went to bed that I finally realized I hadn’t thought about it all day. I learned to congratulate myself with every little step towards improvement. I dread November a little less now. I didn’t have sex again until a year and a half later. When I did, and I realized it is still pleasurable, I was elated. John Doe may have become the focus of my life and taken things away from me, but this was not one of them.

Sometimes there are setbacks, though. I recently went home with someone and was triggered by the sexual position he wanted us to be in. I ended up crying in his arms. I was lucky because he was kind and understanding. I am now seeking counselling.

Less than two weeks ago, a good friend of mine approached me and told me she had been raped. She brought a guy home who asked her if she wanted to have sex. When she said no, he proceeded regardless. As she was telling me what had happened, I was trying to control my emotions, to be her rock. But how could this have happened? How could someone assault such a kind-hearted human being? What had she done to deserve this? I felt heartbroken all over again.

While I will never be able to fully understand what she’s going through, it’s safe to say that I have a general idea. The pain from being in the position of a victim’s friend was different, but still prominent.

These situations made me realize how often people question what rape really is. I now know that, put simply, it is any form of sexual activity with another person without their consent is sexual assault.

The statistics are disgusting: one in four women in North America will be raped. While the media normally reports rapists as being strangers in parking lots (which does happen often, unfortunately), that is not true for the majority of rapists. 80 percent of the time, your rapist is someone you know. It’s a close friend, or acquaintance, or family member.

I hope people can learn from the experience I’ve had dealing with this crime on campus. There are resources on campus to approach and consult if you have had a similar experience, but it still isn’t enough. If you have been in a similar situation, please contact the Human Rights and Equity Services department at the university.

*Name has been changed.

The author of this article has asked to remain anonymous. If you have any questions, email thesil@thesil.ca.


 

RESOURCES ON AND OFF CAMPUS
If you or someone you know is in need of a support service, below is a listing of local centres that are able to provide a variety of services and couselling.

On campus
Human Rights and Equity Services
Provides confidential complaint resolution according to the University’s Sexual Harassment Policies.
(905) 525-9140 x. 27581
hres@mcmaster.ca

Meaghan Ross, Sexual Violence Response Coordinator
(905) 525-9140 x. 20909
rossm4@mcmaster.ca

Student Wellness Centre
Provides a wide range of counselling options and medical services and testing.
(905) 525-9140 x. 27700
wellness@mcmaster.ca

WGEN
Provides confidential support for all victims of sexual assault.
(905) 525-9140 x. 20265
wgen@msu.mcmaster.ca

SHEC
Provides confidential peer support, referrals on and off campus, anonymous and confidential pregnancy testing.
(905) 525-9140 x. 22041
shec@msu.mcmaster.ca

Off campus
SACHA
Provides a 24-hour support line, counselling services and public education.
(905) 525-4573
(905) 525-4162 (24-hour Support Line)

Hamilton General Hospital, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre
Provides a 24-hour support line, counselling services and public education.
(905) 521-2100 x. 73557
sadvcarecentre@hhsc.ca

Hamilton Police Services
Takes crime reports from city constituents.
(905) 546-4925

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