Women Refuse to Let McGill Student Associations Off the Hook for Sexual Assault: A Statement from the Independent Women for Equality McGillPublished Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Sarah M Mah, Kateryna Gordiychuk, Alexandra Yiannoutsos
The McGill community is appalled and angry to hear about the recent allegations of sexual assault on the part of the VP External for the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU), David Aird on February 22th, 2017 in the McGill Daily from a self-organized group of students.
As a group of women that organized for women’s equality on campus, we understand the recent events as being a symptom of normalizing sexual violence. Young men are surrounded by a culture and media that objectifies women’s bodies on a daily basis. This is a culture that teaches men that women are objects for sexual pleasure, and encourages men to use women as such. Our society sensationalizes male sexual domination over women. Disregard for women’s autonomy and bodily integrity is common-place on our campus, and is sometimes celebrated among men. Pornography, as sexualized media, desensitizes us, and tells men that sex and violence are interchangeable and inseparable. We live in a culture that redirects the shame and responsibility of rape on to women, and robs us of our humanity.
We understand these events in the context of rape culture, and women’s inequality.
David Aird’s actions are a prime example of male sexism, at the level of the individual. He used his position of power as a male executive of the SSMU, McGill Against Austerity, and NDP McGill to gain access to these students, and avoid accountability for his actions. We also observe the number of individuals he is alleged to have attacked, and how he continued his behavior since early 2016 - well aware of the complaints against him during this time.
However, we also question the structures that facilitated this prolonged behavior.
We consider the leaders of the student organizations who ignored his behaviors to be complicit. The SSMU, McGill Against Austerity, and NDP McGill played a part in permitting him to exercise that entitlement to women with impunity. They all failed to respond adequately to the complaints they received. The grossly inadequate “weekly check-ins” between Aird and SSMU president Ben Ger (presumably meant to keep the offender ‘in-check’) are illustrative of the lack of accountability and political will within the organization to do anything about blatant sexist behavior when they know and hear about it.
How many times did the students he attacked have to tell their stories in their efforts to get a response from these different student organizations?
Lastly, we reject the notion that this case is restricted to an internal policy process of SSMU, as implied by recent student media reports. The SSMU is not some stand-alone jurisdiction that operates above university policies or federal laws against sexual assault. In his message to students shortly after the allegations, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Professor Christopher Manfredi points out that the McGill’s new Sexual Assault Policy does indeed “apply to students who hold positions within governance bodies of student associations”. We expect the policy to fulfill its mandate to assist these survivors, and help individuals access the criminal justice system, for those who want to pursue legal action.
What is clear to us is the perseverance and the bravery of those who exposed David Aird. It was up to them to find each other and break their isolation. Moreover, they were successful in putting the pressure on student organizations to remove the VP External from his executive roles. The commitment of women to warn other women about dangerous men is remarkable, in spite of the risks and the overwhelming scrutiny they know they may face. We commend you, and stand in solidarity with you.