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Definition of Terms

The concealment of identity and identifying information.
Refers to the obligation of an individual or organization to safeguard entrusted information. The practice of confidentiality includes obligations to protect information from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, loss or theft. Confidentiality differs from anonymity in that the identity of the person making the disclosure is known to the person receiving the disclosure.
Approval, given freely, willingly, and knowingly by each participant to desired sexual involvement. It must be given through ongoing communication by words and actions. It occurs continuously and moment to moment. Consent cannot be assumed or implied. Consent cannot be given if a person's ability to resist or consent is substantially impaired. Examples where consent cannot be given include, but are not limited to being: unconscious, frightened, physically or psychologically coerced, intimidated, substantially impaired because of voluntary intoxication, substantially impaired because of the deceptive administering of any drug, intoxicant or substance. Where there exists a significant power imbalance (e.g., a student in relation to an instructor, an employee in relation to a supervisor) questions may arise in legal or other formal proceedings about whether consent was or could be freely given.
Criminal Report
Occurs when a person reports an experience of sexual violence to the police or security. Filing a report with McMaster Security Services will result in an investigation by Hamilton Police Services.
Occurs when a survivor shares information about their experience of sexual violence in order to receive support and/or information about their options.
Family violence
Can include intimate or sexual violence and can also extend to children, parents, grandchildren, grandparents or other family members and may also include close family friends, guardians or caretakers.
Gender-based violence
Refers to violence that targets individuals because of perceptions about their gender identity, which can include violence directed at members of queer and trans communities, and those whose gender identity does not conform to a gender binary.
Intimate violence
Takes place within an intimate relationship such as marriage, domestic partnership, casual or long-term dating or sexual relationship, or former relationship. Such violence can occur between same sex, same gender, or heterosexual partners and it can take many forms including physical assault, sexual violence, psychological, emotional or spiritual violence, torture, financial abuse, and control of movement and of social contacts.
Non-criminal report
Occurs when a person notifies a university official of an experience of sexual violence to be followed up through a university policy such as the Student Code of Conduct, Residence Code of Conduct, or Violence in the Workplace Policy.
Rape Culture
In a rape culture, people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.” - Based on 'What is Rape Culture' by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture
Sexual assault
Any non-consensual sexual activity, including but not limited to touching, grabbing, kissing, fondling, and oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse.
Sexual violence
A broad term that describes any violence carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality. This violence takes different forms including sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, incest, childhood sexual abuse, and rape during armed conflict. It also includes sexual harassment, stalking, indecent or sexualized exposure, degrading sexual imagery, voyeurism, cyber harassment, trafficking and sexual exploitation.
A term commonly used in feminist anti-violence organizations instead of the term ‘victim,’ which is sometimes perceived as disempowering. A survivor is any person who has experienced sexual violence.
Survivor-Driven Response
One in which the survivor directs the process and chooses the best options for them given their particular circumstances.


If you receive a disclosure concerning sexual violence, it is important that you inform the person making the disclosure of your commitment to keep confidential all information that is provided.

It is also important to inform the person disclosing information that there are limits to confidentiality (as outlined below).

If the person making the disclosure wishes to speak with someone other than yourself, you are advised to refer them to the Consultant on Sexual Violence Prevention and Response at 905.525.9140 x 20909 or If outside business hours refer to the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton & Area (SACHA) 24 hr Support Line at 905.525.4162.

Please note: this referral should be made before the person discloses the details of the incident(s) of sexual violence and/or any identifying information about involved parties.

Limitations to Confidentiality

There are limits to what can be held in confidence when:

  • The individual disclosing information is in physical danger.
  • The individual is at risk of causing harm to themselves or to another person.
  • There are reasonable grounds to be concerned for the risk of future violence.
  • There are reasonable grounds to be concerned that others in the campus and broader communities may be at risk of harm based on the information that has been disclosed.
  • Reporting is required by law; for example, the suspected abuse of someone under the age of 16 or to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

If you are unsure about the limits to your confidentiality, consult with the Consultant on Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator at 905.525.9140 x 20909 or

Anyone receiving a disclosure is advised to take the following steps:

  • If you perceive harm to any member of the community on University property, contact McMaster Security Services. Dial 88 from any on-campus phone. If you are off-campus, dial 911.

    Please note: McMaster Security Services has a duty to report any possible criminal activity, including sexual violence, to the Hamilton Police Services.

  • If you suspect that an individual under the age of 16 is, or may be, in need of protection, you have a legal responsibility to contact one of the local child welfare agencies or the Hamilton Police Services at 905.546.4925. The requirement to protect children extends to child witnesses to family violence, suspected physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and risk of harm. For more information, consult the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

    Please note: Except in instances of risk of imminent harm to children, it is preferable that you support and encourage the survivor to contact the relevant authority themselves and allow them to control the timing of the report. Nonetheless, the person receiving the disclosure still has a legal obligation to follow up with the relevant agency to ensure that the report was received.

  • If the survivor and the alleged offender are involved in legal proceedings related to the incident of violence, the person making the disclosure should be informed that reports made to McMaster Security Services and counselling records or notes made by other University offices may be subject to a subpoena.

In addition to the above:

  • All regulated health professionals (e.g., doctors, social workers) are obligated to report suspected sexual abuse of a patient by a regulated health professional to that professional’s governing body if this information is acquired during the course of their practice. For more information, consult the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991.
  • Police are required to investigate reports of domestic violence and to lay charges when there are reasonable grounds to do so. Police may lay charges even in circumstances where the survivor does not want charges to be laid.

    Please note: If there is no threat to the safety of the survivor or any member of the community, contact with McMaster Security Services or Hamilton Police Services will only occur with the explicit and informed consent of the survivor.

Limitations to confidentiality may also apply to members of the University community in the following circumstances:

  • You may be required to disclose identifying information in the case of an investigation if the accused is a member of the McMaster community, or if the incident(s) took place on McMaster property, or during a University sponsored event.
  • You are required to report incidents of violence to your Residence Manager; and, you may be required to participate in investigations if you are a Residence Community Advisor.
  • You are required to report any threats or incidents of workplace violence to your supervisor, a person in authority or to McMaster Security Services, as per the McMaster University policy on Violence in the Workplace.

    Please note: You are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of all parties when consulting with other individuals and offices, unless you have obtained explicit consent from the survivor to the disclosure of information. Even in the case of an investigation or subpoena, information must be shared judiciously. In the case of a subpoena, you are advised to refrain from sharing any information unless you have consulted with legal counsel through your supervisor/manager.

An avenue for disclosing sexual violence anonymously enables survivors to access information and support without identifying themselves. Campus members wishing to remain anonymous may contact the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator; however, anonymity cannot be guaranteed should the survivor wish to report the incident at a later time.