Statement Regarding our Next Steps, in Light of Recent Events on Campus

Content Warning. The following statement discusses instances of sexual violence committed by people who occupy positions of relative power and authority within SSMU affiliated communities. Engaging with stories of sexual violence can have an impact. It can result in vicarious trauma, or trigger our own memories of sexual violence if we are survivors. We encourage you to take care of yourself as you choose how you want to engage with this statement. We acknowledge that it is often impossible to tell who has been exposed to sexual violence, and we recommend that you share this statement with discretion and care. Listed at the end of this statement are Montreal-based resources including crisis centres, active listening services, self-care material, and 24 hour support services both on and off-campus.

A note on language: The language used throughout this statement mirrors language used by those whose disclosures we received, as well as language used within sexual assault activism. However, we want to honor that any and all language chosen by someone to define/label their experience of sexual violence, abuse, assault, and trauma is a valid and important choice.

This language acknowledgement was developed with reference to the zine CIRCLES: A Community Response and Resource.

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It is with a heavy heart that we address the McGill community in a second statement. The Community Disclosures Network formed as an ad-hoc group created out of a need identified by allies and survivors of David Aird in order to pursue action against him through a third party reporting system. As recent events following our first statement on February 21st have shown, the need for a group like CDN on McGill campus goes beyond the situation concerning Aird. As such, we will be taking steps over the summer to ensure that we have the resources and internal structure to become a reliable and sustainable resource for survivors on campus as of the Fall 2017 semester. This includes working with other grassroots groups doing work around gender advocacy to create a productive network that is able to help anyone who comes forward to them to the best of their collective abilities.

There have been many developments since our initial statement on February 21st, including the resignation of three students holding positions within SSMU following allegations of gendered and/or sexualized violence; ongoing, public dialogue around our community’s complicity in upholding and perpetuating rape culture; and organizing towards the creations of a sexualized and gendered violence policy unique to SSMU. We would like to take this opportunity to individually address recent events, as well as the justice work that the CDN has engaged with since going public just over a month ago.

The conditions which lead to the resignation of (former) President of SSMU, Ben Ger, are, by now, public knowledge. Following the release of our statement concerning David Aird, a member of the McGill community approached the CDN with information regarding Ger’s history of gendered violence. Once this information was disclosed to us, and with the member of the community who came forward, we took immediate steps to ensure that Ger was no longer involved with any formal nor informal process or discussion involving Aird, nor the creation of a new SSMU sexualized and gendered violence policy. We met with Ger to relay our sense that it would be inappropriate for him to continue to be involved with the any and all justice processes relating to Aird specifically or sexualized and gendered violence in general. Additionally, it was felt that Ger’s own history of unchecked gendered violence made him unsuited to continue in his position of relative power and authority as President of SSMU, and it was recommended that he resign.

Secondly, we wish to address the rape joke made by SSMU VP External Candidate Noah Century during an interview with the McGill Daily. When asked in an interview with the Daily what Century felt had been learned from the Aird case, his response was “don’t get caught”. Century’s comment exists within the spectrum of sexualized and gendered violence, and deserves to be strongly condemned. Recent, high profile events throughout the country and on our campus to do with the systemic invalidation and trivialization of the experiences of survivors of sexualized and gendered violence have amplified both the pervasiveness of the issue, and the duty we have to respond. The CDN feels that, with his behaviour, Noah participated in the endemic trivialization of the experiences and traumas of survivors on this campus and beyond and demonstrates the pervasiveness of rape culture at McGill.

There are consequences for engaging in any kind of gendered violence – whether it be rhetorical or physical, made in public or private, by a student leader, a friend, a professor, or a peer. This kind of inappropriate language and behaviour cannot, and will not, go unanswered, and we commend all those who publicly denounced Century and successfully campaigned for his withdrawal as a candidate in the SSMU election.

The CDN urges the McGill community to call on our leaders, on the administration, on those with elected positions within the SSMU, on the groups we each individually work with on campus, and on each other to actively work together challenge rape culture on campus. We maintain that a just process does not merely end with a withdrawal of candidacy, as in Century’s case, nor with a resignation from a position of power, as with Aird and Ger.  We must continuously work together to protect members of our communities from both rhetorical and physical gendered violence. This is a long journey, and one that the McGill community has to be willing to undertake beyond this semester.

In the aftermath of the many resignations within student leadership, many on campus expressed that they felt they had “reached a breaking point”. We agree, and feel that this sense of betrayal, indignation, or disgust must be mobilized towards direct, concrete action. Furthermore, we must continue this momentum throughout the summer semester and into the following school year.

In our discussions with SSMU these past weeks about what next steps should look like, it has become incredibly clear to us that there is no institutionalized training or knowledge about how to deal with the situation such as the one we have found ourselves in. SSMU has acknowledged that they do not have the resources to properly address issues of gendered violence on campus, and they are listening to us and working with us to change this.

We have been asked why we have chosen to work with SSMU, and we would like to publicly and clearly outline what we as a group hope to achieve out of this collaboration. Our goals in working with SSMU are to create a pro-survivor document that protects the SSMU community, and also to ensure that resources and outlines of procedures are made as accessible as possible to survivors without them having to first disclose to someone and/or while remaining anonymous. This requires an ongoing dialogue throughout the creation of this policy regarding what these processes could look like, and how SSMU can work with other student groups on campus to make sure that such a policy and the procedures it outlines are implemented properly.

The argument has been made that a new Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy at SSMU would be useless labour because the new Sexual Violence Policy (SVP) passed by McGill Administration in November 2016 would apply to anyone within the SSMU membership. We disagree with the insinuation that because of this we should not proceed with creating a policy specific to SSMU. The McGill administration’s track record of disbelieving survivors makes us wary of having their policy be the only recourse on campus that survivors are able to use in order to take concrete action against their aggressor. We think the SVP has potential, and that admin is slowly taking steps to win back the trust of the student body, but we are wary of this process and the time it is most likely to take. One could argue that we could say the same about SSMU. However we, the members of SSMU, have much more say in the policy-making process at this level, then we do at the admin level where we have relatively little to no control, as shown by their initial rejection of the student draft of the SVP.  Furthermore, CDN has received firm commitment from SSMU that they will ensure that this policy and the subsequent work/dialogue surrounding it is as bottom-up and survivor-led as possible. This means, among other things, giving support to the grassroot organizations doing work around gendered violence that already operate on this campus (and most often are survivor-led) and seeking their input on what the training for all positions within SSMU should look like.

We at CDN have our own vision for what a GSVP at SSMU would look like and how we  would like to see it implemented, but more than anything we want to make sure that SSMU members have the policy that they wish to see, and we will do our best in the coming weeks to facilitate that.  As many have seen from the statement that SSMU released on Thursday, we will be running closed focus groups in accessible off-campus spaces for members of the community who have experienced any form of sexualized violence to share their concerns, thoughts, and hopes for the new GSVP. They will be facilitated by trained volunteers who have been working with us throughout this process, and will be a purposefully non-SSMU facilitated space to have a conversation about what next steps should look like. If you would be interested in participating in one or more of these focus groups, please register here or email us at community.disclosure.network@gmail.com.

Since our initial statement, the work of the CDN has focused on both facilitating next steps within SSMU, and working externally to SSMU to shift discourse on the ground and challenge rape culture at the level of our communities. To effectively do this we must confront our own complicity in perpetuating gendered and sexualized violence. It is not simply a case of removing all perpetrators from positions of power. We must constantly be asking ourselves what community accountability consists of, and what it might look like to hold each other mutually accountable. This includes, among other things, examining our own behaviour, educating ourselves and our friends.

We at CDN will be reaching out to student-led groups on campus to participate in roundtable discussions and a series of skills workshops related to addressing sexual violence. These may include anti-oppressive and pro-survivor policy development as well as responding effectively to disclosures of sexual violence. Our goal is to ensure that students and student groups are equipped to foster safer communities and to continue this necessary dialogue beyond the current semester in a sustainable way. We will be emailing groups within the next couple of days, however if we do not get in contact with your group and you would like to participate in this initiative, please email us at community.disclosure.network@gmail.com.

Finally, we would like to remind folks that we, in conjunction with sexual assault activists on campus, are organizing a support group facilitated by trained volunteers that will be open to all those who have experienced any degree of sexualized or gendered violence by David Aird. There is a great range of experiences that have come to CDN through either the anonymous form, by email, or through in-person disclosures — all are welcome to participate, whether or not you have disclosed anything to the network previously, or are planning to in the future.  All experiences are valid and are worth talking about. If you would be interested in participating or would like more information — as well as if you have any thoughts or comments on how CDN can make this process more inclusive — please email us at community.disclosure.network@gmail.com.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this statement. We understand it’s a lot (both to read and to emotionally address) and we encourage everyone to take steps to keep up this dialogue as long, sustainably, and productively as they can. We are at a turning point on campus. It’s time for change. It’s time for radical resilience.

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Resources:

Thinking about your experience of sexualized/gendered violence might be difficult, and it might feel retraumatizing. That is a perfectly natural response, and you don’t have to be alone. Here is a non-exhaustive list of Montreal-based resources which offer a variety of supports:

SACOMSS: The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society is a volunteer-run organization committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault and their allies through direct support, advocacy, and outreach. Their services include Drop-In and Line (DIAL), Support Groups, Advocacy, and Outreach. http://www.sacomss.org/wp/

McGill Peer Support Centre: The Peer Support Centre offers free, non-judgemental peer support, and can help direct you toward other available resources.

Office for Sexual Violence, Response, Support, and Education: Resource run through the Office of the Dean of Students; for active listening as well as for addressing complaints and facilitating disciplinary action. They have trained Sexual Assault Respondents available on campus.

The Montréal Sexual Assault Centre: Offers a range of free services to anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest, as well as survivors’ family and friends. Services include medical, legal and/or individual therapy for 18+; listening, support and referral for all ages; and a toll-free 24/7 helpline for all. 1-800-933-9007 ; 514-934-4504 http://www.cvasm.org

Tel-Aide: 514-935-1101. Offers 24/7 free, anonymous, non-judgmental listening centre for people in distress in both English and French. http://www.telaide.org/en/

Nightline: A peer resource offering a confidential, anonymous and non-judgemental listening, run by McGill students. Services include active listening, resource referrals and crisis management. 514-398-6246. http://ssmu.mcgill.ca/nightline

CIRCLES, a community response and resource: “CIRCLES is a resource, a letter of solidarity to fellow survivors, and a reconstruction of what it means to heal collectively”. Includes in-depth listing of support services available. We love this resource. Email circlescommunityresponse@gmail.com for a pdf copy

 

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