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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: How Do We Define Sexual Violence?

S e x u a l A s s a u l t. If these two words stringed together are capable of eliciting a painful response for a survivor, then why is it that the rest of the society expresses so much inconsistency with how we respond to these crimes? As we continue to endure social isolation and the reluctance of warm and sunny spring weather, this month is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month it is imperative that we raise awareness on the devastating impact of sexual violence, examine societal factors that perpetuate this crime, and focus on the measures we can take in order to prevent sexual violence in the future.

Sexual violence affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men, which means we all likely know a few survivors of sexual violence . This raises the question, how did sexual violence become so prevalent and acceptable? A kindergarten class in Ontario (Canada) is capped at 29 students, the reality is that in any classroom, on average 9 students will experience some form of violence in their life time. To add to this horrible statistic, how do you feel knowing that only 1 of the students that are survivors of sexual violence in each class will see their perpetrator receive a criminal conviction. This is because only 1/10 sex assaults result in criminal conviction. These numbers are abysmal and demonstrate exactly why we need to raise awareness on sexual violence.

“The vast majority of sexual assaults that have been substantiated by police do not result in a criminal conviction or even make it to court...Only 12 per cent, or about one in 10, resulted in a criminal conviction. Most cases never had a chance to attain one, as the research found only 49 per cent of substantiated sexual assault complaints made it to court in the first place, according to Statistics Canada in a 2017 report.

Among survivors, individuals of the LGBTQ2+ community are a target of sexual violence and are disproportionately represented due to the stigma and discrimination they may face across their life span. In fact, a study based out of Ontario found that 20% of trans people have experienced some form of sexual or physical violence. In 2002, youth under the age of 18 accounted for 61% of sexual assaults reported to police, and the highest number of offenses affected females aged 11-19 . Indigenous women, girls and children and racialized females are also disproportionately targeted in crimes of sexual violence due to their intersectional identity, social location and colonial undertones still present in today’s society. Simultaneously, these crimes are under represented or depicted in society compared to those involving individuals of dominant culture.

Equally as important, it is assumed that the percentage of male survivors is much higher, but the crimes are under reported and have always been shrouded in shame, stigma and secrecy. This stigma is largely due to the societal construction of what it means to be a masculine male. Many ignorantly believe that those who identify as male are less capable of experiencing sexual violence. Unfortunately due to this stigma many male survivors suffer in silence and report a lack of recovery services and support (which are largely geared towards meeting the needs of women). As we continue this month, we will discuss many of the myths that minimalize any gender's experience with sexual assault, and how they each differ. This would include one of the most common myths seen around young male victims of sexual assault; that being "If the perpetrator is a woman, a boy or teenager should consider himself to have been “initiated” into the exciting world of sex."

Sexual violence is the only crime that is not declining in Canada and treating and supporting survivors costs billions of dollars every year. In fact, according to anecdotal evidence from service providers working in the area of sex trafficking, the GTA alone is an epicentre of a massive sex trade existing in Ontario. Sex trafficking is a form of sexual violence and human enslavement and is defined as the coercive sexual exploitation of women, girls, and boys. According to a report, more than half of the human trafficking cases that have taken place in Canada since 2009 have been in Ontario alone.Victims are targeted, controlled and manipulated and forced to stay in the sex industry for the benefit of the individual buying the service and the trafficker. Sexual violence has many forms but is simply defined as any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act by violence or force and includes unwanted sexual comments or advances, selling or attempting to sell someone for sex and acts of violence directed against an individual because of their sexuality, regardless of the relationship to the victim.

As a society, we hear about sexual violence quite often but do we really know and comprehend what it means? Every experience deserves to be treated singularly and empathically. What does consent really mean and why does it seem like it has gray areas? What are myths around sexual violence, and common oppressive reactions to survivors after they share their story? Has the COVID-19 epidemic influenced these crimes? Keep posted this month while we explore sexual violence further and discuss why it's so imperative we raise awareness on these crimes.

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