TFAC statement on our withdrawal from the Sexual Violence Policy Working Group

The TFAC logo, a graphic image of a black cat.

The TFAC logo, a graphic image of a black cat.

On September 30th, TFAC was invited by CUPE 3903’s Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) to participate in York University’s Sexual Assault Policy Working Group. Prior to this invitation, JHSC had been pressuring York for over a year to properly consult CUPE 3903 on their sexual assault policy. After months of being denied information, of being told that there was no written policy or procedures, and of ignoring our feedback, York invited CUPE 3903’s JHSC to sit on their Sexual Assault Policy Working Group. Upon entering this working group and attending meetings in November, TFAC has discovered that York has already drafted a policy, a policy that does not respond to the criticisms CUPE 3903 has raised, and that its policy is not being used as a basis for informed consultations with community members.

For all of these reasons, TFAC is withdrawing from York’s sexual assault policy working group. TFAC is disappointed in the policy that York seems determined to push through the Board of Governors. And we call on CUPE 3903 to push back against the employer and demand a survivor-centric policy in replace of the poor substitute that York is determined to offer.

The Process

Before this chair at the table had been offered, CUPE 3903 raised issues with York regarding the need for substantive consultations, not just with CUPE 3903 but with various student, staff, faculty and community groups, that will be affected by this policy and who have been active in fighting sexism and rape culture within the York community. To date this form of substantial consultation has not taken place. Instead, York continues to sideline these groups while pointing to the inclusion of singular representatives from a few student groups on the working committee as constituting proper consultation.

Consultations with staff, faculty, and community groups have only recently been initiated. These consultations are taking place too late in the process as York is planning to pass their policy through the Board of Governors in December and to release a policy by January 1st as Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, mandates. By only being invited to participate in this process when the policy’s due date is mere weeks away, it is clear that input on this policy is not actually desired.
Furthermore, it was only after entering the working group and attending meetings that TFAC was told by the administration that all information pertaining to the working group (including both discussion in meetings and the policy itself) was to be kept strictly confidential. This is something that TFAC never agreed to, and in fact spoke up against in a meeting with the employer when conditionally accepting a spot on the working group. TFAC rejects the false confidentiality that is given to this policy process. We see this as a tool to keep dissent hidden, to avoid open and substantial consultation, and as a mechanism for pushing through a problematic sexual assault policy against the interest of our members.

The Policy

TFAC has pushed back against both the interim policy released by York on September 20th, and the draft policy which is being kept secret behind the closed doors of the working group. TFAC has insisted that any policy must be survivor-centric, which means active, informed, and engaged consultation with survivors at every stage of the process. Nothing in the process indicates that survivors have been actively engaged. While York continues to use the language of ‘survivor-centric’ throughout all documents that have been made public thus far, this has been merely a rhetorical device. TFAC condemns this rhetorical sleight of hand.

The interim guidelines (in themselves and as an example of the policy to come) continue to be perpetrator-centric. Further concerns that TFAC have raised include (but are by no means limited to) calling attention to the needs of survivors to take a lead role in all processes and allowing survivors to be the primary decision makers. York interim guidelines fail these suggestions in many ways; for example, in not being committed to keeping survivor confidentiality when requested. These criticisms of York’s interim guidelines, and the policy yet to be released, have been brought to York’s attention for over a year, and yet the administration continues to ignore the voices raising these concerns and instead continues to misleadingly use the language of survivor-centric. York’s refusal to acknowledge the shortcoming that CUPE 3903 continue to raise not only leaves this criticism unaddressed, it gives off a false sense of confidence in the policy to provide proper assistance. For all of these reasons, TFAC is withdrawing from York’s sexual assault policy working group.

What do we want?

A Survivor-Centric Sexual Assault Support Centre and Policy. A survivor-centric sexual assault support centre would be open 24 hours a day, staffed with specially trained nurses and counselors who are available to help survivors with whatever it is the survivor needs: medical care, emergency housing, how to navigate establishing a safety plan at the university etc. The staff will be under no obligation to break the survivor’s confidentiality in any way at any time. A survivor-centric policy puts the needs of the survivor first because it is developed and written by survivors and clearly incorporates research on survivor-centric responses and the testimonials of survivors. It is neither concerned with protecting the university nor protecting the assailant. Instead, it demands survivors be heard, respected and believed.