Proposed governmental changes aim to make sexual violence reporting at Ontario universities more survivor-centric
C/O Aditya Joshi
cw: sexual violence
The provincial government of Ontario is proposing changes to sexual violence and harassment policies at post-secondary institutions.
These changes are being made to Ontario regulation 131/16. This was implemented in January 2017 to establish a standard of sexual violence policies in colleges and universities.
The changes, proposed in January 2021, will ensure that students reporting sexual violence or harassment are not asked about their past sexual history. Furthermore, individuals reporting will not face consequences for violating the institution’s alcohol and drug policy.
The proposed amended regulation would require post-secondary institutions to update their sexual violence policies. There would be no additional costs or burden on the institution or students.
These changes aim to reduce the fear and stigma that survivors may face when reporting gender-based violence. The proposed changes come from policy recommendations made by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance in Spring 2020.
The McMaster Students Union is a member of OUSA and contributed to the policy recommendations. The paper was co-authored by former MSU Vice-President (Education) Shemar Hackett and AVP Provincial and Federal Affairs Angel Huang. Many of the recommendations also mirrored similar suggestions made by the MSU Sexual Violence and Response policy.
The paper outlined the current challenges with gender-based and sexual violence prevention and response, including disclosure and reporting.
The disclosure and reporting section included an explanation of how institutional hierarchies make it more difficult for students to report sexual violence and harassment. The paper went on to explain the existing insufficient education and training for campus police, staff, faculty and student instructors.
OUSA explained that there is a lack of knowledge on how to respond to gender-based violence and support survivors in a trauma-informed and survivor-centric way.
Among other suggested resolutions, OUSA recommended strengthening legislative and regulatory frameworks such as Ontario regulation 131/16.
“We know that gender-based violence and sexual violence is not just a problem at institutions but a systemic problem across society and it certainly exists [on] campuses. At McMaster, but also across the provinces, we've heard from students and advocates and experts that the current policies are not survivor-centric and they're not friendly toward people to come forward [to report],” explained MSU VP Education Ryan Tse.
On March 16, McMaster University staff member, Christopher McAllister was arrested and charged with sexual assault. McAllister had ties to the department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, which underwent a climate review in July 2020 for systemic and cultural issues linked to sexual violence and harassment.
“I think this [proposed change] is important because hopefully, it will help to build a little more trust between the community and the institution but, more importantly, just make the policy safer and provide more accountability,” said Tse.
The proposed changes by the Ontario government will make the province one of the only in Canada to legally prevent survivors from having to answer irrelevant questions and be prosecuted by substance use policies.
Tse explained that in the future, OUSA looks forward to continuing their advocacy for the other policy recommendations they made to ensure policies are more survivor-centric, evidence-based and informed from the lived experiences of survivors.
“This is a really good first step and it's nice to hear that the government is listening to the voices of students . . . It's really important that students continue to speak out and speak up for these changes, through OUSA but through other means as well,” said Tse.
Student job applicants need to be vetted more to prevent harm within our communities
CW: sexual violence, racism
As a student, there are many ways you can get involved at McMaster University. Whether it’s becoming a representative for Welcome Week, being a mentor for McMaster’s many mentorship programs, volunteering for the Student Wellness Centre or getting involved with the McMaster Students Union — there are plenty of opportunities for everyone. Some positions are paid as well — for example, a few part-time paid roles that students can apply for are the Archway mentor position where you mentor around 40 first year students, and a Residence Orientation Assistant, which manages a team of Residence Orientation Representatives throughout the school year.
Notably, a number of student jobs involve interacting with other students or prospective students, whether it is providing support to certain individuals or helping first-year students transition into university. Thus, it is important that individuals in these positions are properly trained for situations that may arise, such as sexual violence disclosures and situations surrounding discrimination. However, I believe that individuals entering these paid positions should also have some form of background check during the application process to make sure that they can respond to serious issues properly.
While training for paid positions is often provided surrounding these topics, the training can come in the form of a short Mosaic quiz or a two-hour workshop done by the Equity and Inclusion Office on responding to sexual violence disclosures. As someone who has completed many pieces of training on sexual violence, bystander intervention and anti-oppressive practices, I believe that training is often not enough to aid individuals in responding to disclosures if they’ve never done so in the past. If a student has responded to a disclosure in a harmful way in the past, I am doubtful that training will be able to equip these students adequately so that they do not cause harm again. As a result, they may intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to the people they interact with.
If a student has responded to a disclosure in a harmful way in the past, I am doubtful that training will be able to equip these students adequately so that they do not cause harm again. As a result, they may intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to the people they interact with.
Currently, many student jobs are heavily involved with the student body, such as McMaster Students Union part-time managers, Archway mentors or ROAs. However, in applications for these positions, there is little to no focus on how applicants have responded or would respond to serious incidents unless the job directly entails responding to disclosures, such as being a part-time manager of a peer support service. Many positions that my friends and I have applied for often focus on what relevant experience you have for a job or what ideas you want to bring to the role. Unfortunately, questions that focus on responding to incidents of violence are far and few between. It is especially vital that students in these positions know how to deal with difficult situations so that they do not cause harm to others.
As comprehensive as training can be, you can’t always train individuals to change their beliefs. By performing some form of background or reference check on applicants, you can vet whether they would be able to respond to harmful incidents well. Jobs outside of university that involve providing care, minors or vulnerable people require vulnerable sector checks. If certain student jobs involve support, students that are minors or people in vulnerable situations, it only makes sense that this standard is applied to students as well.
Checking to see how students have responded to incidents regarding harassment, sexual violence or discrimination in the past is important because it can be a good indicator of how they will respond to these things in the future. Whether you check their history by seeing if they have a negative record with McMaster or ask their co-workers or past bosses, this is something that should be done more frequently. Sure, training may be able to alter someone’s behaviour to some extent, but it is unlikely to completely reform someone from a few hours of training.
Checking to see how students have responded to incidents regarding harassment, sexual violence or discrimination in the past is important because it can be a good indicator of how they will respond to these things in the future.
In addition, many student job interviews lack questions where one can ask the applicant about issues such as sexual violence or racism to highlight any red flags. Even if the job is not directly related to dealing with discrimination or sexual violence, these situations can come up regardless, so it is important to make sure that people can respond appropriately.
Although student jobs are often part-time and temporary, they can still have a big impact on our community. That’s why it’s important to make sure that students in paid positions are adequately prepared to respond to any situation that may come up so that they don’t respond to an issue in a way that harms someone else.
McMaster’s idea of equity protects the university rather than the students
CW: sexual violence, anti-Black racism
It’s time that we talk about equity and inclusion at McMaster University.
Throughout the summer, McMaster has been implicated in several issues. Since February 2020, multiple sexual violence allegations have arisen against faculty and one graduate student in the psychology, neuroscience and behaviour program. In addition, there have been many calls from students for Mac to remove Glenn De Caire as the director of parking and security services due to the controversy surrounding his actions during his time as the police chief of the Hamilton Police Services. In 2010, De Caire established the Addressing Crime Trends In Our Neighbourhood team which performed “street checks” on individuals. The McMaster Students Union has also passed a motion to call for the firing of Glenn De Caire and the removal of the special constable program.
Amidst all of these issues, the Equity and Inclusion office has been integral in addressing anti-Black racism, providing sexual violence reporting options and offering support to students. However, when you use a critical lens, the EIO has been unable to be fully equitable, unbiased and supportive of the student body if it is an office run by McMaster — the same university that has inflicted harm on its students.
However, when you use a critical lens, the EIO has been unable to be fully equitable, unbiased and supportive of the student body if it is an office run by McMaster — the same university that has inflicted harm on its students.
I have had personal experiences dealing with the EIO. On Mar. 7, 2019, the Director of Human Rights and Dispute Resolution, Pilar Michaud, contacted me to inform me that McMaster initiated a third-party investigation due to my public allegations against my perpetrator. This was something I did not agree to and had indicated that I did not want to proceed with a formal investigation to the sexual violence response coordinator a couple of months prior. Because the investigation also involved my residence representative position, my application was put on pause, and the EIO assured me that I would be able to interview after the investigation had concluded. Despite this, I was implicated in a 10-month long investigation (which meant that I was unable to even be considered for a residence rep position before Welcome Week had passed) where I had to discuss the detailed events of my sexual assault to a third-party investigator, who was also a white man.
During the investigation, I felt incredibly alone. I was told not to discuss any details related to my assault or the investigation to anyone who may be a potential witness to facts or details of what occurred. This severely restricted my support system, as I had discussed what happened to me with many of my friends and because of that, they could have been considered a witness for this investigation.
In a time that the EIO was supposed to support me, I felt scrutinized for speaking about my traumatizing experience and worried that somehow they would conclude that I inflicted harm on my perpetrator instead of the other way around. Although McMaster had concluded that my perpetrator had violated the sexual violence policy, the university refused to provide any details regarding what consequences he would face, other than that he cannot contact me — despite the fact that I did not ask for this sanction to be put in place. Why does the EIO think that being survivor-centric is creating sanctions that the survivor did not ask for?
Throughout my entire interview process, the most support I received were from my peers, not the EIO. All the EIO did was involve me in a traumatic investigation process and occasionally emailed me with a list of resources that I could access.
Throughout my entire interview process, the most support I received were from my peers, not the EIO. All the EIO did was involve me in a traumatic investigation process and occasionally emailed me with a list of resources that I could access.
It is also notable that the person who signed off the letter regarding the decision made for the investigation was Sean Van Koughnett, the dean of students and associate vice-president of students and learning. Van Koughnett is a white man whom I’ve never met — so why did he have a say in whether my allegations were true or not?
The fact that the EIO involved Van Koughnett, someone who has not held a formal role in sexual violence prevention, made it clear that they were not here to make a decision that was supposed to support my wellbeing. Had they truly wanted to help me, they would have had someone knowledgeable of sexual violence sign off on the decision instead.
Don’t get me wrong — the Equity and Inclusion Office has held meaningful events such as the “Let’s Talk About Race” workshop series and Black student virtual check-ins. However, a lot of their advocacy work falls short if they continuously fail to tangibly support students who want to report the harm that they have experienced at McMaster. Although I’d like to say that my experience with the office was an outlier, I know of many other students who have been failed by the EIO.
At the end of the day, EIO acts more like a corporate entity — it’s not here to protect students, it’s here to protect McMaster’s reputation.
By Roba Dekamo, Contributor
Most people experience some level of privilege based on a combination of characteristics society considers integral to who you are. Some factors that influence privilege include your race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity. Based on these characteristics, your life will be harder or easier, and unfortunately you don’t get a say in the matter. Many folks are able to live easier lives due to privilege. For example, white folks are less likely to be pulled over while driving and men are less likely to be targets of sexual violence. However, one privilege I never considered, likely because doing so would contradict its very nature, is the ability to forget.
A friend of mine invited me to take part in McMaster University’s Mens’ Walk in Solidarity with the the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. As we made our way through campus, we stopped at four memorial sites: the Student Memorial Garden, Nina de Villiers Rose Garden, the Montreal Massacre Commemorative Stone and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Memorial. During one stop, a group member reminded us of how frequently we may pass by these sites, often daily, without giving them much thought. He defined this as “the privilege to forget”.
This isn’t to say men are dismissive of acts of gender-based violence and their impacts, but to say that, as cisgender straight men, many of us don’t have to carry the weight of our very safety being threatened on the basis of gender. Therefore, we can either consciously or unconsciously ignore the realities that women and non-binary folks face on a daily basis in terms of their physical security.
My daily decisions aren’t impacted by the threat of violence because I am a man. I don’t consider how late I can stay on campus if I am not walking home with friends. I don’t prioritize being aware of my environment or worry about who I’m surrounded by when I am out dancing. The women in my life can’t say the same.
While walking through campus with my mom, she helped me realize how easily I am able to forget. We crossed paths with a few friends and when one of them, a female engineering student, stated her program, she was met with all the affection I had come to expect from my mom but with one additional praise I didn’t anticipate: she called her brave. She cited the events of Dec. 6, 1989, the École Polytechnique massacre, where a man killed 14 women in a horrible act of misogyny because he said they were “feminists” for being in engineering. My mom reassured this young woman that her decision was hers to make, and that by defying gender norms she had been brave and made at least one mom proud. I’m sure her own mother was also very proud but unfortunately we are still waiting on a quote from her.
My mom found my friend brave for pursuing her passion, for choosing a field of study dominated by men and for doing what she wanted regardless of the standards. Brave for doing what men consider normal. This was another reminder of my privilege to be able to dismiss the concerns that women often have to take into account when making decisions. Will I feel safe and comfortable in this space? Welcomed or alienated? Is the discomfort worth pursuing something I want? I never had to face these questions when weighing my options in high school.
I remember a time in my first year when five women I was friends with mentioned that they always felt better when I joined them on late night escapades to find a kegger or backyard party. I was taken aback by the statement, not just because I’m built like a determined toothpick but because I never considered my physical safety to be in jeopardy by simply being out at night. To be fair, this anecdote isn’t as much about forgetting as it is about learning, but even beyond this experience years ago, these thoughts don’t occupy mind nearly as much as I’d argue they should.
I learned a lot from those friends and they helped me realize a few things: my understanding of the world was very limited and I had a lot to learn, but also we as a society need to share more. Sharing the burden of repairing broken systems and perceptions, but also sharing our experiences to help inform and educate each other about things some individuals may never experience themselves.
Violence against women and gender-nonconforming people exists 365 days of the year, at a rate drastically higher than men experience. This allows a lot of male identifying folks the luxury of tuning out the subject for 364 of those days, and acknowledging its significance as it arises, be it a news article, story from a friend or national observance.
Year round, men need to ask more often, listen more intently and genuinely care for what women and non-binary folks have to say about these issues. We can use each others’ experiences to learn a lot about the things we can never experience ourselves and hopefully this can help change the ways we think and act for the better.
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.
By: Steffi Arkilander
Content Warning: Contains mentions of sexual assault
McMaster University has a strong reputation among Ontario universities for offering a variety of diverse student-oriented resources and supports. However, McMaster has consistently failed in making support for sexual violence survivors accessible and effective.
On Aug. 19, I was sexually assaulted by someone I trusted, just a few weeks before I started my second year at McMaster. I decided to give university resources a chance and reached out to the sexual violence response coordinator, Meaghan Ross, in October.
I needed academic accommodations to support the extensive and difficult emotional turmoil I was experiencing. My grades were falling and I was not ready to write any tests. To receive academic accommodations, I had to use Ross in my letter for Student Accessibility Services, which meant disclosing my sexual assault to numerous administrative individuals.
Unfortunately, getting registered with SAS is a long process and often my deferred midterms fell on days where I had other assessments or midterms. As a result, instead of my work being manageably spread out, my work and emotional distress were compounded together.
In December, I decided to report my assault to the university. Not only was it unfair to me to have to constantly interact with my perpetrator, but it was also unfair to other students that had to interact with him. But when I contacted the McMaster Students Union and the Residence Life Office, I learned that undergoing the reporting processes is an extensive and exhausting endeavour.
The process forces you to disclose your story to multiple organizations, to staff and non-survivors and brings your sexual assault to the public forefront. Even if my perpetrator is removed from positions without contact from me, he will know I caused his removal and that I decided to take action. Moreover, people will be able to piece my story together. While I am personally okay with this, many others are not.
Thus, to receive accommodations,such as an apology or to remove him from a position, I took the informal route that is offered through the McMaster University sexual violence protocol. To my disappointment, this route requires survivors to detail the incident. This creates an incredibly re-traumatizing experience and gives your perpetrator access to your disclosure, allowing them to reject the requested accommodations.
This process has clearly become incredibly legal, despite pursuing the university route in order to avoid legal involvement. As this process is painfully slow, my perpetrator continues to hold positions of power and interact with the student body without consequence. My perpetrator is free to roam campus while I am forced to anxiously avoid him.
My story is not uncommon. In fact, in comparison to other survivors, the university has responded well. Students generally don’t report their sexual assaults because of the university’s response; the survivor often feels interrogated and is led to hope for an unsatisfactory compromise with their perpetrator.
Survivors need to be prioritized. MacLean’s nationwide survey found that 29 per cent of McMaster students were not educated on how to report a sexual assault and 24 per cent of students weren’t educated on McMaster’s services that support survivors. This needs to change.
The system should be more navigable and transparent, so that survivors are more likely to reach out for help. Reporting assaults needs to be standardized university-wide so that survivors do not need to recount their experience to multiple organizations.
Training does not teach perpetrators not to assault people. My perpetrator has attended over five trainings on anti-oppressive practices and sexual violence throughout university.
Instead, training needs to emphasize on supporting survivors, and tangible means by which we can all work to dismantle the barriers impeding support mechanisms. The fact that only three in 1000 assaults results in conviction only becomes horrifyingly real when you have to support a survivor or become one yourself.
Survivors have nothing to gain from reporting, only lots to lose. So please believe us.
As a part of their last few meetings, the McMaster Students Union Student Representative Assembly voted to adopt three policy papers which will guide future legislation.
Throughout the year, SRA members, MSU research assistants and other MSU members compile research which they then condense into 30 to 40 page papers. Students also had the chance to voice their concerns on the given topics during the MSU’s policy conference, which occurs every semester.
This year, the MSU and its advocacy and research teams focused on three issues: sexual violence prevention and response, environmental sustainability and public transit and transportation.
Each of these policy papers included major recommendations to shape the advocacy the MSU takes on while negotiating with other institutions such as the city of Hamilton, the university and Metrolinx.
The sexual violence prevention and response paper focused on creating recommendations for prevention, health services, promotion of resources, survivor centric responses, training, provincial legislation and integration with services both on and off campus.
The paper made a number of recommendations, ranging from including the sexual violence response coordinator or executive members from the MSU Women and Gender Equity Network during the Student Success Centre’s planning of Welcome Week and similar events to making changes to the Student Wellness Centre’s current approach to follow-ups with survivors.
Many of the recommendations focused on altering the structures currently in place to support survivors of gender-based violence and alter the culture on campus to be a culture of consent.
It also challenged McMaster’s current sexual violence response policy, arguing it ought to alter its language to be more inclusive of marginalized groups. The paper also recommended that Security Services be taught anti-oppressive practices and receive formal training regarding McMaster’s sexual violence response policy.
The paper also challenged Residence Life’s current approach to sexual violence disclosures, which calls on employees to disclose any information to the residence manager. The paper argues that the policy ought to change to allow employees only break confidentiality if the survivor explicitly requests it.
It also calls for province-wide bystander training and the inclusion of sexual violence related healthcare to the University Health Insurance Plan, the main healthcare plan for international students.
The environmental sustainability paper focused creating recommendations to reduce waste on campus and ensure the university follows sustainable practices. The majority of the recommendations focus on adhering to the best possible environmental sustainability practices and promote sustainable policies.
The policy paper also recommends divesting from fossil fuel and using more sustainable energy sources, in addition to setting a target of being carbon neutral by 2040.
The paper argued the university ought to eliminate single-use plastic products and expand programs such as their reusable takeout containers to promote best possible sustainable practices.
The paper also argued that the university ought to take a more proactive approach to eliminating waste by reducing nonessential energy use in unused buildings and installing sensor lights, to list a few examples.
It recommends divesting from fossil fuel and using more sustainable energy sources, in addition to setting a target of being carbon neutral by 2040. It also recommends that the university make sure that their educational material and other material relating to sustainability remains up to date.
The paper advises that the university take an active role in educating students on sustainable practices, by creating a unified sustainability campaign with other organizations on campus and by establishing a network of sustainability-related groups on campus and in Hamilton.
This policy paper focuses on how to better improve the infrastructure of major public transit systems McMaster students use, with a focus on the Hamilton Street Railway and Metrolinx’s Go buses.
The majority of their recommendations for the HSR focus on improving the current structure of bus lines and frequencies to better service students.
The paper recommends that the city of Hamilton audit and then repair damaged and inaccessible sidewalks and create more bike lanes in the Ainslie Wood-East neighbourhood to promote biking and make the commute safer for cyclists.
The paper offers a number of recommendations for the HSR, ranging from ensuring all HSR employees are given adequate sexual violence, diversity and anti-oppressive practices training to better promoting their social media. The majority of their recommendations for the HSR focus on improving the current structure of bus lines and frequencies to better service students.
With respect to Metrolinx, the policy paper offers similar recommendations, such as increasing frequency and consulting McMaster students when considering service changes to lines McMaster students frequently use.
The paper also offers recommendations for future advocacy, stating that the city of Hamilton ought to invest in the 10-year Local Transit Strategy every year until it is complete and that the provincial government ought to increase its funding allocated to the HSR.
Against the backdrop of federal and provincial government efforts aimed at addressing sexual violence, McMaster University implemented a sexual violence policy in January 2017 and the Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey in February 2018. According to the McMaster Students Union, however, the university needs to take a more intersectional approach to the problem of sexual violence.
In February and March 2018, students at post-secondary institutions across the province were invited via email to complete the Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey, which was mandated by the Ontario government as part of the “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment” legislation.
Included in the Ontario government’s plan are amendments to the ministry of training, colleges and universities act of 1990, which requires post-secondary institutions in the province to participate in a student survey pertaining to sexual violence.
The legislation also calls for Ontario universities to construct a sexual violence response policy and report on sexual violence and student support to the minister of advanced education and skills development.
“The plan is the foundation for a public education and awareness campaign on sexual violence, harassment and other unwanted and inappropriate behaviour. We launched this plan because every person in this province has the right to feel safe — whether at home, work or school or in their community,” said Yanni Dagonas, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.
The Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey was developed in consultation with members of student groups, private career colleges, public colleges and universities and sexual violence researchers. CCI Research refined the survey and approved it for pre-testing and focus groups in the fall of 2017.
In addition, since 2015, the ministry’s sexual violence reporting advisory committee has been giving the ministry involved with the survey insight about the prevalence of sexual violence at post-secondary institutions in the province.
The survey will be used to guide institutions towards addressing issues related to sexual violence and improve services, policies and awareness about sexual violence.
“The Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey is an important tool for gathering information from postsecondary students about their experiences, general attitudes, and beliefs related to personal safety and sexual violence,” read part of a statement on the website of the survey.
The survey will allow post-secondary students to report on issues pertaining to sexual violence on campus, including sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. Questions in the survey concern topics such as awareness of protocols and services available to survivors and students’ experiences with unwanted behaviours and sexual violence.
The implementation of the survey comes in the wake of the federal government’s recent promise to improve financial support for sexual assault crisis centres in Canadian post-secondary institutions. In particular, as part of its 2018 federal budget, the Trudeau government called for $5.5 million to be provided through the ministry for the status of women Canada to universities over the next five years.
Nevertheless, the federal government explicitly stated that universities that do not adopt “best practices” may have their federal funding stripped as early as 2019.
Although the Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey was developed and released in February 2016, predating the federal government’s announcement, the recent implementation of the survey at universities including McMaster has raised questions about the motivations underlying it.
However, according to Meaghan Ross, McMaster’s sexual violence response coordinator, the university has yet to be informed about what the government means by best practices. When asked if she believes that McMaster is implementing best practices, Ross said that the university has been taking a number of steps to support survivors and tackle the issue of sexual violence.
For instance, in 2015, Ross was hired as the sexual violence response coordinator at the university’s office of human rights and equity services office. In her role, Ross facilitates the implementation of McMaster’s sexual violence response protocol to address disclosures of gender-based and sexual violence, responds to individual disclosures and launches prevention and education initiatives in the campus community.
When asked if she believes that McMaster is implementing best practices, Ross said that the university has been taking a number of steps to support survivors and tackle the issue of sexual violence.
In January 2015, the university released its sexual violence response protocol, which guides members of the campus community to respond to individuals who disclose incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in a consistent and survivor-centred fashion.
Two years later, McMaster ratified its sexual violence policy, which stipulates the university’s commitment to addressing sexual violence and explains what options survivors and complainants can take to obtain support and disclose and report incidents of sexual violence.
Specifically, the policy highlights how survivors can take a criminal reporting route or a non-criminal one. It specifies that individuals who opt to take either a criminal or other path may have to attend a hearing, either through the university, arbitration or criminal court.
The policy also outlines Ross’s role, the importance of confidentiality, support services for survivors and investigation and adjudication processes that may take place should an individual file a complaint of sexual violence to the university.
“The start of 2018 marked the first full year that all of Ontario’s publicly assisted colleges and universities had a standalone sexual violence and harassment policy in place,” said Dagonas. “This milestone marks a crucial foundational step in the work we’re doing together to address and prevent sexual violence on campuses across the province.”
The McMaster Students Union, however, believes that Ontario universities need to be doing more to tackle the problem, something their advocacy team highlighted in their sexual violence prevention and response policy paper which was presented to the Student Representative Assembly on March 11.
The paper was researched and written over the course of the last few months and completed at the last MSU policy conference. According to the policy paper, the university should be bringing a more intersectional approach to address the problem of sexual violence.
“The services provided by McMaster University should be informed by a recognition of the intersectional nature of sexual violence, in which individuals’ race, ability, indigeneity and socio-economic status, among other factors, can render them vulnerable on multiple fronts,” reads part of the report.
The policy paper includes initiatives aimed at preventing sexual violence, such as inviting guests who help dismantle rape culture rather than normalize it. It also emphasizes the need for improvements to campus infrastructure, such as increased lighting at night, citing a Laurier University study that revealed that women and marginalized students tend to feel less safe.
The paper also calls for more accurate tracking of data, inclusion of specific data such as students’ demographic information, increased transparency with the public through the release of yearly sexual violence incident reports and the addition of counselors who are trained in anti-oppressive practices.
The policy paper includes initiatives aimed at preventing sexual violence, such as inviting guests who help dismantle rape culture rather than normalize it.
The paper argues that McMaster’s sexual violence policy lacks consideration of how the policy may need to be applied differently in the context of racialized men as opposed to white men as racialized men are increasingly subjected to racial discrimination in the judicial system.
“Traditional narratives of racism, and their role in propagating inequities in criminal convictions, must be acknowledged in the language used within the McMaster policy, and McMaster must further make an effort to propose strategies to address and prevent biased rulings,” read part of the paper.
The paper also argues that university should implement mandatory bystander intervention training and consider that institutions such as police services, which may be involved in a criminal reporting context, may limit people of colour from reporting incidents of sexual violence to the university.
McMaster has made strides in its response sexual violence. According to the research done by the MSU, however, the role that identity plays in shaping students’ perceptions and experiences of sexual violence continues to be overlooked.
By: Moleen Makumborenga
Conditions on campuses promote sexual violence. You have the dangerous concoction of heedless youth, easily accessible alcohol, a search for the psychological and social affirmation that sex brings and blurry sexual assault laws.
It is tragic for something to happen to you and to know that you were not fully comfortable or conscious when it happened, to show doubt during intimate interactions and to have to bear the post traumatic stress associated with your experience because the law is not encompassing of the broad scope of sexual and emotional abuse in intimate relations.
It is infuriating to be muzzled into silence about your experiences because you have made the saddening realization that no one will be in your corner. This is to say that the status quo of sexual politics deems that women in short dresses, long dresses, drunk women and women walking home alone at night are at fault.
“Slut walks” were born to refute that miseducation. Slut walks, which began in Toronto, were in opposition of a senior police officer who suggested that if women want to stop getting raped, they should stop dressing like “sluts.”
The movement gained international momentum when Emma Sulkowicz, a 2014 Columbia University graduate, centered her senior thesis around a 2012 sexual assault incident against her. Emma walked around campus with her mattress in protest of her university’s inaction against her alleged rapist. She vowed she would only stop when the university had expelled him or he chose to withdraw from the school. In the case of Emma, and in many cases with sexual assault survivors, there was not enough evidence for the university to proceed with disciplinary action against her and two other girls who filed complaints against the same student.
This led to the infamous hashtag #RapeHoax, which saw Emma victim blamed into familiar silence known to rape victims.
Fast forward to 2016. BuzzFeed has published 10 videos on the varied types of sexual assault and a polarizing Stanford rape case took over the news. The University of British Columbia was also shaken to its ethical core by several allegations that it ignored complaints against a history PhD student who was found to be committing offensive sexual acts against up to six women.
It made me ask what McMaster is doing about sexual violence. I have seen red emergency phones all over campus with security officers patrolling in tow and I have noticed numerous posters on many of the schools’ message boards about the seriousness of affirmative consent. The quote, “Yesterday’s
consent is not today’s consent to sex” stuck out to me in particular.
To my surprise, I also discovered McMaster’s sexual violence support website, and it is pretty damn good. Listing in a clear and concise manner where to get support on campus and how to give support, it is the best web portal about sexual violence you did not know about.
Even though I am happy with my findings, I still have this anxiety that transcends university spaces. When I leave the campus umbrella, the actual problem still persists.
At the very core of it, we need to disassemble not only how men see women, but also how women view themselves as sexual beings. The majority of sexual assaults are not reported ultimately because our society makes it so women do not trust themselves. Outside of intimate spaces, women are often conditioned to believe that their emotions and experiences are not legitimate.
It is often the case than when women report incidents of sexual assault, they are asked, “Are you sure you were raped?” What becomes imperative is that we create a society that makes it so women can trust that they will be understood for their explanations of the various facets of sexual assault.
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On Thursday, Sept. 17, hundreds of women-identified individuals walked away from sexual violence and towards safety in the annual Take Back the Night march. The march began as a protest against sexual violence against women. The annual tradition encourages women to reclaim their right to safety in their communities, day and night.
For this reason, the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area (SACHA), the event’s organizing group, requested that the march remain limited to women-identified individuals. Male allies were encouraged to voice their support from the sidelines, commending those that came out for knowing when to engage in active support and when to let others take the lead.
The march began in front of the Hamilton City Hall, looped around to King Street and back. Despite being a march in resistance of power imbalance and abuse, it was far from a negative space. Instead, the night was filled with buzzing noise and a vibrant crowd—both in colour and demeanour.
As the dusk settled around City Hall, the crowd covered the square, and with it grew the noise: the fanfare, the drumbeats, the anticipatory chatter and triumphant yelling. White balloons danced above the crowd and sparkles from poster embellishments floated in the air.
Signs reading “Yes I am angry” and “We believe survivors” waved amidst chants of “A dress is not a yes.” Women of all ages took pictures together, belted out Beyoncé’s “Survivor” and reveled in the sound of their voices echoing around every street corner.
The spread of the march, the signs, the volunteers and the staff made it clear that organizing this event was not a walk in the park. Sponsor lists covered an entire page of SACHA’s pamphlet, the City Hall square was scattered with booths of organizations backing SACHA, and volunteers new and old ensured the night ran smoothly.
Erin Crickett, the Public Education Coordinator for SACHA, was one of the planners for Take Back the Night and took a break from running around to explain how monumental the night was for female empowerment.
“Working against rape culture can be really isolating and lonely… When you’re speaking out against dominant culture, you get so many messages saying you’re wrong. Every year is super reaffirming to be surrounded by joyous, vibrant, loving people who are [recognizing] that this is an issue in Hamilton.”
Take Back the Night drew out many faces from McMaster including both women joining in the march and volunteers giving their time to the cause.
“There has been a renewed surge in campus based activism since the “No Means No” campaign in 1990… It is really nice to see all three postsecondary institutions taking this issue very seriously… and the provincial government giving them a nudge with the Sexual Violence Action Plan that was released in March.”
While the recent conversation surrounding sexual violence in programs like Welcome Week Rep training is a step in the right direction, the dialogue should continue year-round and needs to reach past those in leadership positions and onto the general student body.
Estimates of crowd turnout ranged between five hundred to one thousand supporters, with a noted surge in the number of younger women dedicated to the cause. Yet Crickett has a different measure for success.
“I don’t judge the success of an event by the number of people that show up, I judge it by something that is immeasurable, which is how much did we change the culture of Hamilton and did participants have a good experience.”
Participants can post their reasons for marching on blog.sacha.ca under the series “Why I Come to Take Back the Night.” While responses are equally moving as they are chilling, there is a general consensus that the annual march is an incredibly empowering space for women from all walks of life.