Photo by Kyle West
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.