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McMaster’s Human Rights and Equity Services has just launched the university’s first-ever Sexual Violence Response Protocol.

Spearheaded by Meaghan Ross, the recently hired Sexual Violence Response Coordinator, the protocol is an effort to provide university staff and community members with the information needed when accepting a disclosure about sexual, gender-based or other related violence.

“The response protocol is really about ensuring that survivors who have experienced violence receive a consistent response and a response that is survivor-centered,” said Ross.

The SVRP was developed through two primary initiatives — the work of the Anti-Violence network as well as a joint program between the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and the YWCA, which involved research on current disclosure responses on campus.

“We know that it’s been people’s experiences [on campus] that when they disclose instances of gender-based violence that they could get really good responses or they could unfortunately get very victim or survivor-blaming responses. So it’s meant to provide some clear guidelines about ways to be more consistent in providing responses that really honor what those survivors are saying,” she said.

The protocol was officially implemented at the end of November with the launch of a website outlining its details as well as references and HRES contact information.

The website also includes a series of important definitions of terms like sexual violence, gender-based violence and survivor-driven response, that are meant to give community members a better understanding of the disclosures they may receive and how to react to them.

The protocol itself has nine bullet-pointed concrete commitments including a “highest priority on survivor safety and ensuring that the campus is welcoming, safe and inclusive for all members of our community” and “Communicating that sexual violence is not — and will not be — tolerated and will be actively addressed on an ongoing basis.”

Ross explained that in particular there were two parts of the protocol that she was impassioned about discussing and including: confidentiality limits and creating a non-judgemental space.

“We know that survivors have come forward to speak to make disclosures, but they haven’t always been informed about what the person receiving the disclosure’s confidentiality limits are. And the difficult thing about that is that survivors start to tell their stories and they don’t know where that information might go,” she said.

Limits of confidentiality refers to the fact that not every community member has been trained to safe-guard the information they have been provided, and may feel the need to share the information they have been told with someone else who can then in turn deal with the disclosure. Both Ross and the website explained that if someone is coming to you with a disclosure, you need to make it clear to them that their words will remain confidential.

“Folks need to be aware of their limits, and if they have questions about that or they are worried about that then I have a very high level of confidentiality so they can refer it to me,” said Ross.

In terms of creating a non-judgmental space, Ross and HRES want to ensure that those receiving disclosures are not asking any leading questions, or providing inappropriate advice or comments.

“So folks aren’t asking questions about what the survivor did or didn’t do, or making any sort of assumptions about that. And that they also are not providing advice … it really needs to be about the survivor and what makes sense to them,” said Ross.

Ross and HRES will be hosting three information sessions about the SVRP during the upcoming week: Dec. 7 at 12:30 p.m. in MUSC 224 and 5:30 p.m. in MUSC 313, and Dec. 9 at 3:30 p.m. in MUSC 224.

The protocol and its corresponding website are both very comprehensive and its existence is a formidable step for McMaster as an inclusive and understanding community.

“It signals a good moment in McMaster’s history, that we’re really saying that we have a commitment to survivors,” said Ross.

“It’s a really good starting place that the university has this commitment.”

Photo Credit: svrp.mcmaster.ca

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