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.”