One benefit to having a sexual violence policy in place on campus is that the policy sets out a process for how sexual violence will be addressed at the university once a complaint is made. This means that survivors who wish to make a complaint will know what will happen; they will know what is involved in the process of making, investigating and adjudicating their complaint. Another benefit to having a policy in place is that survivors are given another option, other than the criminal justice system, for having their experiences of sexual violence addressed by the university. For some survivors, this policy provides an avenue to have their voice heard and for some survivors, it will provide an avenue for them to seek justice after they’ve experienced sexual violence.
I hope that the policy will provide clear and accessible information for survivors, that it is a policy that enables survivors to know exactly where they can turn for support, resources, and information on making a complaint. As such, I hope that survivors are not left wondering where to turn. Additionally, I hope that the policy reduces the number of times that survivors have to access multiple spaces across campus; that it streamlines the process so that survivors access one “door” and are not expected to tell their story multiple times.
Including ongoing education and training within the policy itself is significant because it ensures that a proactive, preventative component is given focus within the mandate of the university’s work. Complaints processes are important, though they are reactive – they are aimed at addressing a situation once it has already happened. But, we should, and want to, aim our work at addressing prevention – to ensure that sexual violence doesn’t happen. Education and training is one way to do this prevention. It is important that we place as much emphasis on education and training as we do on complaints processes. Putting education and training within the policy itself also adds weight to what advocates are saying: that we should be addressing the root causes of the problem, and that we need to be working towards large scale culture shifts. Education and training are one way to get at the root causes and to work towards culture shifts on campus.
I hope that the Sexual Violence policy is sending the message that sexual violence is taken seriously at McMaster, and that it and survivors matter. Additionally, I hope that is one way to signal that we seek to support survivors on campus. Lastly, I hope that it is one piece of work that builds a different kind of culture on campus.
First and foremost, we can all commit to not perpetrating sexual violence. We can also practice consent in our everyday actions and behaviors, and in all our interactions. When possible, we can interrupt rape culture wherever we see it happening. We can be part of various social movements that promote feminist, anti-racist, anti-oppression. We can support survivors.