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The Office of Human Rights and Equity Services (HRES) gained a spunky personality and welcoming face when Meaghan Ross joined their office as McMaster’s new Sexual Violence Response Coordinator. The position was created in response to recommendations made by “It’s Time To End Violence Against Women on Campus,” a McMaster project commonly referred to as “It’s Time.” Ross and Status of Women Canada, a government initiative, partnered to head the project, and found that there was a gap in the school’s protocol for responding to survivors of sexual violence.

While Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is pushing towards the creation of a specific sexual assault policy, there are no current legislative requirements for how to respond to survivors. This means that survivors who are disclosing may get a response that ranges from accepting to victim-blaming.

“[Survivors] may connect with a very good T.A. who knows this information who understands this kind of work and refers them to the appropriate folks. On the other hand, they may connect with a T.A. or staff member or faculty member ‘X’ and they may get a victim-blaming and a very unaccommodating response,” Ross explained.

Currently, work is being done to implement a protocol of response for which people likely to get disclosures—teaching assistants, people working in athletics, student leaders and academic advisors—will undergo response training.

In her new role, Ross will be implementing a two-part approach to sexual violence on campus. The first will be response to survivors. Disclosures can come from incidents that occurred either on or off campus as long as there is a nexus to McMaster, including incidences of sexual violence that occur at an event hosted by a McMaster student off-campus.

The second pillar of her approach is a reformation of cultural views.

“In dealing with sexual violence, institutions tend to think [of sexual assault as] one individual case rather than seeing it as a culture and thinking about the norms created in society,” Ross explained.

The #Consent campaign run through the Student Wellness Center and SACHA training for Welcome Week representatives centered around sexual violence is a move in this direction. Training focuses on bursting some of the preconceived notions floating around.

“Sexual violence has been linked with sex. You hear lots of things about perpetrators, who are most likely people we know, … being just too attracted to someone or not being able to control themselves. The danger in that argument… is that sexual violence is not about sex, it’s actually about power, like other forms of violence,” Ross said.

The other side of the issue is the reality that our culture relies on an evidence-based system of proof. This has proven to be a large barrier in the case of sexual violence, which often occurs out of sight. While society at large may not yet be at the point where these experiences can be communicated in a safe environment, Ross can certainly be that helping hand.

“I think that is where the analysis of power comes in. For me folks don’t need to [provide] proof because the reality is that is the way that power systems work,” she said.

Despite her new position, McMaster has long been home to Ross. She completed both her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work and Labour Studies and then went on to earn a Masters of Arts degree in Globalization Studies at McMaster.

She brings in experience working in social services and at a sexual assault center, both of which have contributed to a deep understanding of the conditions in which violence occur and the intersections between violence against women and other identities.

“I think I am bringing both an analysis of what makes a good survivor response and [an understanding] of how folks navigate the university in order to make policy change,” said Ross.

Anyone wishing to connect with Meaghan Ross can reach her in person at the office in room 212 on the second floor of MUSC, through the phone at 905-525-9140 ext. 20909 or through email at rossm4@mcmaster.ca.

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