by Eric Smith
A report on sexual assault at McGill sponsored by the University's students' society recommends changes to disciplinary policy as well as more education and resources to combat sexual assault at McGill.
The report by social work student Carla Alexander finds the prevalence of sexual assaults on university campuses continues to be very high.
Citing several studies from campuses across North America, Alexander suggests that as many as 25 per cent of women "experience some form of sexual assault while attending university."
The report recommends that all reported cases of sexual assault be heard by the University Committee on Student Discipline. Currently some cases, like those reported at McGill residences, may be heard at different levels, for example in a summary hearing before the director of the residence. The report finds that the range of penalties available in a residence hearing is different from those that may be imposed by the Committee on Student Discipline.
Alexander pays particular attention to McGill residences in her report. She says that unlike off-campus housing, "residences are part of the jurisdiction of the University. They're also where you find the youngest people--and there's lots of alcohol."
Among the recommendations the report makes specifically with respect to residences is to review the sharing of bathroom and shower facilities between sexes on some floors. Alexander says she found evidence that some women on co-ed floors with shared facilities will wait until the middle of the night to use the showers, and she says there have been reported cases of men peering over the curtains.
The report also emphasizes the need to provide education on what constitutes sexual assault. The Criminal Code's definition is adopted by the report and recommended as the model for the University.
Social work professor Annette Werk supervised the study. "The most important thing is education," says Werk. "The campus has to take a different attitude towards sexual assault." Werk adds that the education process must start when new students first arrive at McGill.
She says, "McGill's frosh week is a problem. No matter how hard they try to have other activities, beer is the essence of frosh week."
Werk says she is pleased with the study. "I think the report is excellent," she says. "It raises all the issues I would have raised." She adds that the high prevalence of assault found by the report doesn't surprise her.
As McGill's ombudsperson for six years, Werk says, "I was well aware of these problems." But she emphasizes, "If the statistics were only a quarter of what the study found, it wouldn't matter."
The study was instigated by Students' Society VP University Affairs Lisa Grushcow. "The reason we decided to commission the report is that I had personally seen and heard about cases that weren't getting a good hearing, not because of malice," she says, "but because for whatever reason, we don't treat sexual assault in a nuanced way."
Originally, the report was intended as the basis for a motion to Senate to form a committee to come up with specific proposals for amending the University's disciplinary code and practices with respect to sexual assault.
Instead, Grushcow will move to have a workgroup struck in cooperation with the Dean of Students' office that will report back to Senate with amendment proposals next year. Dean of Students Rosalie Jukier has agreed to oversee such a workgroup, although she says there are parts of the report with which she disagrees.
For example, according to Jukier, "I don't think we should incorporate the Criminal Code definition of sexual assault into the green book (Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities). It's very long and overly complex. It's too difficult to interpret without the benefit of legal training or extensive research on jurisprudence."
But Jukier adds that "the part of the report that deals with complaints in residences deserves a second look. That part of the green book definitely needs tightening."
Jukier says she expects that along with herself, the workgroup will be made up of several students and academics, including Director of Residences Flo Tracy, representatives from the sexual assault centre and the director of the counselling service, as well as a legal assessor.