By Anonymous, Contributor
CW: sexual violence
Within many survivors’ inner circles, McMaster’ University’s Equity and Inclusion Office has been criticized for not listening to or providing adequate support for those who have faced sexual violence. As a survivor, it is difficult for me to hear about the ways in which a university office shows a lack of care. As evidence by multiple cases, the EIO has not supported survivors sufficiently.
Unfortunately, sexual violence on campus has always been a problem. To make matters worse, sexual violence on campus is typically overlooked. This, in turn, protects perpetrators.
This year, I found out that a perpetrator had been hired onto the Sciclones team. I felt extremely hurt and confused, especially considering that I had been a Sciclone representative in the past. My friend emailed the EIO in October about their concerns of a perpetrator being in a position of power. In response, my friend was told that a person could not be removed from the position without a formal complaint. When those in power would not listen to my friend when we spoke up about the harm this person did, my friend and I took to social media to warn others about this person.
Eventually, the Sciclones planners addressed this issue by emailing the Sciclones team on Dec. 3, 2019. In the email, they quoted the EIO sexual violence response coordinator. The email stated that the perpetrator could not be removed from the team or isolated without being reviewed through a standardized process.
“If a student-led organization were to take any action to uninvite or differentially treat another student group member from an activity they are entitled/expected to attend, without fair and due process . . . then they would not be following the Sexual Violence Policy,” wrote the sexual violence response coordinator.
The email revealed that actions against the perpetrator without formal process would be viewed as inappropriate.
“All persons have the right to be heard and protect themselves from harassment and reprisal that may occur without fair/due process,” continued the sexual violence response coordinator.
Essentially, we were told to file a formal complaint about this person or do nothing. Apparently, excluding someone from events—even if people have complained about said person making them feel unsafe—constitutes harassment. In the email to the Sciclones team, the planners said that they consulted with the EIO to come to this conclusion.
Making a formal complaint can be a long and emotionally draining process that is inaccessible for many survivors. By consulting the EIO instead of approaching the people who had been harmed, the planners made it clear to us that they saw our posts on social media, but did not want to listen to us and take our concerns seriously. Through this example, it is evident that these leaders would much rather protect perpetrators than address a survivor’s needs.
It is important to note that this is not completely the planners’ fault—assuming that the EIO gave the Sciclone planners this advice, the EIO is most at fault here. In their email, the planners insinuated that the EIO viewed the perpetrator as the one being harassed and discriminated against. This makes it seem like they prioritized protecting a perpetrator of sexual violence rather than hearing survivors’ concerns.
This is not the only time the EIO has failed to hear survivors. When I was sexually harassed in 2017, I went to the McMaster Science Society for help in the removal of the individual from a mentorship program. At the time, I felt like they had listened to me. They even consulted with the EIO sexual violence response coordinator for the best course of action. However, I was not included in the conversation. I thought it was safe to assume that the EIO would be survivor-centric in this process and would consult me before moving forward. Yet, the following year, the same individual was hired again despite the MSS representative team knowing about the sexual harassment complaint.
Instead of the EIO reaching out to me and consulting me in conversations, I had to reach out to the office to get a semblance of clarity on the situation. I was pressured into signing a no-contact agreement; however, the perpetrator was not removed from the team. I was upset and confused by this course of action. Following claims that I harassed my perpetrator, the EIO withdrew the no-contact agreement.
Many survivors have an increased risk of mental health complications. For example, the chances of a woman who has experienced sexual violence developing post traumatic stress disorder is 50 per cent, compared to a 7.8 per cent prevalence in the general North American population. Speaking from experience, a lack of university and administration support can worsen the challenges that survivors already face. Survivors’ grades are at a risk of declining and they may face further challenges with isolation. Furthermore, it is difficult being present on the grounds of an institution that doesn’t support survivors and as a result, makes them feel unsafe.
In order to support survivors, the EIO needs to do better. When the office educates others to believe survivors and uses a bunch of statistics to support their sexual violence training, they should also take their own advice to heart. Believing survivors doesn’t mean you only believe them once they have a restraining order, a conviction or because they have gone through the sexual violence complaint process and have been proven right. It means believing their stories when they reach out to you the first time because the systems set up to report assaults are not survivor-centric. Better practices means supporting survivors’ needs instead of protecting a perpetrator.