Let’s Talk About Sexual & Gender-Based Violence

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence

CSA does not tolerate any forms of sexual violence. CSA hopes to bring light to this prevailing issue by using our platform to educate, provide resources, and spread awareness to the broader community.

The following information is based on research to the best of our ability using credible resources from government sources and news articles; we are receptive to new resources. We recognize this is an ongoing learning experience, and this is by no means intended as a sole source for our readers to learn from.

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is, unfortunately, a prevalent issue in our world today. As individuals belonging to larger communities, such as our families, friend groups, and campus, it is important that we stay informed and get educated on this topic. The information we have compiled below is only scratching the surface; we encourage you to explore other sources.

What is sexual violence?

The Ontario Government defines sexual violence as “a broad term that describes any violence, physical or psychological, carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality.” It may include sexual assault, rape, childhood sexual abuse, rape during armed conflict, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent or sexualized exposure, voyeurism, cyber harassment, trafficking, and more. In Canada, there are three levels of sexual assault:

  1. Level 1 Sexual Assaults cause little or no physical injury

  2. Level 2 Sexual Assaults involve a weapon, threat, or bodily harm

  3. Level 3 Sexual Assaults involve physical wounds, disfigurement, or threaten the life of the survivor.

As specified by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, these forms of sexual and gender-based violence are rooted in gender inequality and unequal power dynamics.

Who is affected by sexual violence?

Sexual violence affects people of all ages, social status, and cultural backgrounds. As detailed by the Ontario Government, it leaves devastating impacts on survivors, their families, their communities, and society as a whole.

However, certain groups are at a higher risk of being targeted by sexual violence. According to the Ontario Government, 1 in 3 Canadian women, and 1 in 8 Canadian men, experience sexual violence. Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Victimization reported that women self-reported 553 000 sexual assaults in 2014.

For Canadians aged 15 to 24, the rate of sexual violence is 18 times higher than that of Canadians ages 55 and above. 82% of all victims of sexual violence under the age of 18 are female, and girls are four times more likely than boys to be sexually abused by a family member. Additionally, women with disabilities and those who are institutionalized, Aboriginal women, single women, and unemployed or low-income women are at an increased risk for sexual violence.

The Council of Ontario Universities released a report regarding the 2017-18 school year, where 71% of students at Western University reported being sexually harassed. 58.2% said they were assaulted by another student.

What is rape culture? Why is it so difficult for victims to come forward?

According to VOX, rape culture is “a culture in which sexual violence is treated as the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults. It’s not just about sexual violence itself, but about cultural norms and institutions that protect rapists, promote impunity, shame victims, and demand that women make unreasonable sacrifices to avoid sexual assault.” It has its origins in a traditionally patriarchal society, but rape culture today not only affects women but also men. Oftentimes, the fact that men can be victims of sexual violence is ignored.

VOX and the Canadian Women’s Foundation also shed light on the stereotypes associated with victim-blaming, along with the effects. Rape culture frequently victim-blames. This can be seen when survivors of sexual violence are held responsible for the crimes committed against them, rather than holding the perpetrators accountable. Common questions include “What were you wearing?” and “Were you drunk?” As a result of frequent victim blaming, it is very difficult for survivors to come forward with their experiences.

Survivors may also suffer from trauma and/or shock. The Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) states that victims of sexual violence may undergo psychological responses to trauma including:

  1. Denial: telling themselves that they are overreacting or the assault wasn’t a big deal

  2. Guilt/Shame: questioning their own actions and behaviour

  3. Embarrassment: blaming themselves for the abuse or feeling like they didn’t do enough to resist it.

Additionally, the abuser may be in a position of authority in their workplace, family or community. Contrary to popular belief, sexual assault perpetrators are not mostly strangers; the Canadian Department of Justice specifies that 80% of sexual assault is committed by someone the victim knows.

Consent

What exactly is consent?

Consent needs to be enthusiastic and ongoing. It is given with a clear “yes”, affirmative words, and positive body language. People can change their minds and withdraw consent at any time, so it is important for partners to communicate clearly and pay attention to each other’s body language. Canadian Women’s Foundation

The absence of a no is not a yes. Voluntary consent is required; the following situations are some examples considered as no consent:

  1. Threatened to say yes

  2. Too afraid to say no

  3. Lack of sobriety and awareness; if the individual is drunk, high, asleep and/or unconscious

Canadian law states that “without your agreement, any sexual contact by another person is sexual assault.” The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres adds that this includes any forced sexual contact you did not agree to and applies to anyone – whether the perpetrator is a stranger, a family member, or someone who helps you, such as a caregiver or a doctor.

Resources for Survivors

  1. Across Canada: Canadian Women’s Foundation’s List of Resources

  2. Ontario: Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres

  3. British Columbia: Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Sexual Assault Fact Sheet

  4. Western University: Health and Wellness

  5. York Region: Central Health Line’s List of Resources

  6. Toronto: Toronto Central Health Line’s List of Resources

How We Can Help

To combat sexual assault, the Canadian Women’s Foundation emphasizes that we must hold ourselves accountable by educating ourselves, and raising awareness on the topics of sexual violence and consent. We can promote healthy sexuality and relationships by having open discussions on topics such as communication, respect, and consent. Additionally, the Foundation encourages us to do the following:

  1. Recognize and challenge victim-blaming; let survivors know that it is not their fault

  2. Hold perpetrators accountable for their actions

  3. Address systemic barriers in the legal system that prevent justice for victims of sexual assault

  4. Challenge ideas of gender inequality

To do so, we can look to the many resources available online, including this webpage by the Government of Ontario which further defines sexual violence and consent. It also explains how to help, or get help, if you or someone you know is/are a victim of sexual violence.

We can also donate to organizations that aim to support survivors of sexual assault. Some examples include the Canadian Women’s Foundation and the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.

CSA does not tolerate any forms of sexual violence. CSA hopes to bring light to this prevailing issue by using our platform to educate, provide resources, and spread awareness to the broader community.

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