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BREAKING THE BINARY: Working Towards an Inclusive Understanding of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a complex issue that goes beyond the common heterosexual understanding. Heterosexual approaches and assumptions of sexual violence can further marginalize members of the LGBTQ2S+ community unintentionally invalidating, discrediting, and ignoring their experiences. Many abusive behaviours are common across all relationships regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, but the unique circumstances and prejudices against the LGBTQ2S+ contribute to specific needs and additional barriers to accessing relevant supports and services.

There are extensive gaps in research regarding the unique barriers faced by the LGBTQ2S+ community. Without a more comprehensive understanding of how sexual violence impacts the queer community and the complexities influencing reporting rates, it is incredibly difficult to understand the magnitude and prevalence of the issue. In our recent research report, Sexual Assault in Saskatchewan, we aimed to examine this issue in our province and serve as a jumping off point for future research. 

THE ISSUE 

According to national research on reporting, gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are six times more likely to experience sexual violence than people who are heterosexual. LGBTQ2S+ individuals experience unique circumstances that create additional harm and prevent access to supports and services in addition to the barriers faced by heterosexual and cis-gender individuals.  

LGBTQ2S+ individuals experience homelessness or transience at a much higher rate making them more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation by others. In Saskatchewan, queer and transgender youth lack safe community spaces, and the few that do exist become more difficult to access if the individual is homeless. Stigmatization, and a lack of non-binary services, results in individuals feeling excluded from supports and programs targeted towards only men or women; this is especially true in rural areas of Saskatchewan where services are limited or non-existent. A lack of inclusive services creates barriers for LGBTQS2+ individuals when seeking the help and support they need after experiencing sexual violence. 

Other research has found that perpetrators will often threaten to reveal the survivor’s sexual or gender identity to others if they report the assault to the authorities. In other instances, the survivor may not report because doing so would force them to reveal their  sexual and/or gender identity to the police and, should the case move forward, the public.

Many services operate under heterosexual assumptions that can prevent same-sex partner violence from being fully investigated and identified. For example, men admitted to the hospital with physical injuries are less likely to be questioned about potential abuse than women, influencing the likelihood of necessary intervention.

Although many organizations provide inclusive supports and services, there is a lack of understanding and awareness surrounding the importance of using inclusive language when communicating their services to the public. The absence of inclusive language in communications and marketing isolates these individuals as they feel excluded from these services. The use of inclusive language provides a clear indication for these individuals that they will be treated with respect, their experiences will be believed, and their needs will be understood and addressed appropriately. 

Although society has progressed significantly in our acceptance of the LGBTQ2S+ community, these individuals still experience social and societal exclusion. Therefore, when they experience sexual violence, a crime where victim blaming and shaming is so prominent by society and the justice system, their very identity can be unfairly used as a reason not to believe them, and to not take them seriously. 

With a few important considerations, support services and criminal justice institutions can contribute to a necessary shift in social attitudes towards the LGBTQ2S+ community. Together, we can work towards a collaborative, comprehensive, and inclusive approach to responding to and preventing sexual violence. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

There is a clearly demonstrated need for the development of more culturally competent services across all sectors responding to sexual violence. Here are some ways that organizations can guide the development and implementation of inclusive programs and services:

  • Consider the following questions to ensure the provision of a safe, inclusive space for LGBTQ2S+ survivors:
    • When we currently talk about sexual violence, who benefits from the conversation? What are the consequences of this, both intentional and unintentional?
    • What is the individual context, demographic location, and social context of the person telling their story?
    • How can we move our work outside of the gender binary system?
    • What would a framework of intersectionality bring to those impacted by the work that we do?
  • Create programming especially for LGBTQ2S+ individuals, focusing on their specific needs and circumstances.
  • Have staff participate in educational workshops to expand their understanding of LGBTQ2S+ terminology and experiences. Many LGBTQ2S+ organizations offer resources, information, and workshops. 
  • Create policies and guidelines for addressing discrimination in your organization, and ensure that non-heterosexist, inclusive language is in place in communications and marketing campaigns to let individuals know that they are a safe, welcoming space for LGBTQ2S+ identifying people to receive support services.
  • Seek out and establish partnerships with LGBTQ2S+ organizations to create resources programs, and referral networks that connect the LGBTQ2S+ community with relevant services, and resources.
  • Consider the need to provide advocacy and establish culturally competent contacts, including police, lawyers, and other advisory experts in order to prepare those within the LGBTQ2S+ community for potential systemic barriers they may face in the process of healing and seeking justice. 

The power to initiate change exists not only within larger institutions, but within all of us as individuals part of a greater community. Here are a few simple ways you can be an ally and advocate for change within your community: 

  • Familiarize yourself with LGBTQ2S+ terminology. Out Saskatoon’s Queer Terms page is a good place to start
  • Educate yourself on LGBTQ2S+ experiences and history to understand the impacts oppression and anti-LGBTQ2S+ can have on sexual violence
  • Be an advocate. Raise your voice and your platform for the LGBTQ2S+ movement and fight for equality. This could be educating friends, family members, and strangers, or volunteering with an organization that is pushing for change

For more information about this topic, read the sources of our information:

Sexual Violence in Saskatchewan: Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front Lines

Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/ Bisexual/Transgender/Queer [LGBTQ] Communities Moving Beyond a Gender-Based Framework 

The Power of Believing The Stories of Survivors

During our research work, we traveled across the province of Saskatchewan and listened to many survivors’ share the reality of their experiences with sexual violence.

One of the recurring themes in our conversations was that many survivors never told anyone about their experience for fear of not being believed. They shared with us that it was one of the main reasons that they didn’t report it or tell a family member or friend what had happened to them. 

Right now, I want you to reflect upon a time in your life when you went through something that was really difficult. Imagine if you didn’t have anyone to share that experience with? Or even worse, the person you told didn’t believe that it happened to you? 

Many survivors of sexual violence are denied the truth about their experience. 

For those of us who have not had a direct experience with sexual violence, it’s hard to comprehend how this could happen to someone. Often, this can lead to developing a stigma or bias about the reality of sexual violence, because we haven’t learned how to support someone through a traumatic experience. 

The thought of sexual violence is fearful in itself so it’s much easier for us to avoid having conversations about it, to ignore the reality that someone we love has experienced it, or to pretend that it isn’t happening at all. 

But it is happening. 

And when we stay silent, we are allowing the stories of survivors’ to remain silent too. 

So now, it is our time to stand with survivors. To be courageous with them in the face of what feels like the unimaginable, because when we do, something powerful happens. 

We raise the voices of those who have long been silenced and we remind them that their power has always been theirs to hold even in the moments when it feels like it has been completely taken away. 

We validate the truth about their experiences and we let them know that it was never their fault, that they are loved, that they are worthy, and that despite it all, they have survived. 

Right now, imagine that the survivor you have chosen to stand with is your mother, your father, your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your partner, or your best friend. 

Imagine that they are standing in front of you and you are looking in their eyes and you say, “I believe you.” 

You have the power to change the story about sexual violence by saying those three words. 

Will you?

Here’s how you can create a safe space for a survivor to share their story: http://sassk.ca/how-to-respond-to-a-sexual-assault-disclosure/

No Story Left Untold: A Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign Sharing Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front-Lines.

This week is Sexual Assault Awareness Week. 

A week dedicated to raising awareness for sexual violence through public education recognized and proclaimed by the Ministry of Justice. 

This year’s theme, “No Story Left Untold” focuses on sharing voices, stories, insights, and actions from the front-lines. 

Everything that will be shared with you throughout the week is a reflection of the work captured in the research report released on April 29 in partnership with SASS, CUISR, and FSIN.  

A focal point of the research was the stories shared from survivors across Saskatchewan that shed light on the reality of their experiences with sexual violence. 

Over the course of this week, through the theme “No Story Left Untold”, we will share voices of survivors, speak to the importance of believing their stories and advocate for the removal of barriers that limit stories from being told. 

It is our hope, that raising awareness for sexual violence through survivor stories, will help you better understand the complexities of sexual assault and abuse by showing you that survivors are people like you. Although their experiences may be different than yours, we have all gone through something in our lives that has been difficult or devastating. 

Speaking up for and taking action against sexual violence is not an easy thing to do. It is much easier to pretend that it’s not happening and avoid having the uncomfortable conversations and interactions with others about sexual violence. 

The truth is, we really don’t want people to be in pain, but we spend a lot of time keeping people in painful circumstances and situations because we think we can’t do anything about it. 

But we can. 

The first step is having the courage to say, “I am willing to help and I am willing to believe.” 

The second step is having the courage to do something about it, in whatever way you can. 

Throughout this week, we will be sharing what we have learned through our research with you in hopes that it will inspire you to move, to take action, and to call for change.

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who have experienced sexual violence. 

Please join us in spreading the message of #nostoryleftuntold from May 11-15 to stand with the voices of survivors and take action to help change the story about sexual violence. 

Government of Saskatchewan proclaims Sexual Assault Awareness Week

Proclamation Certificate

SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN SASKATCHEWAN: VOICES, STORIES, INSIGHTS, AND ACTIONS FROM THE FRONT LINES

Three years ago, we partnered with the Community-Institute for Social Research to conduct an extensive study of sexual violence in Saskatchewan. On April 29, 2020 the report, Sexual Violence in Saskatchewan: Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front Lines, was released to the public in collaboration with the Community-University Institute for Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Women’s Secretariat, and the Saskatchewan First Nation Women’s Commission.

The research aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of sexual violence in our province through individual esperiences and an examination of the strengths, gaps, and barriers in services. We thank all those who participated in this study for their strength, resilience, compassion, and determination for change. 

Below is an overview of some of the key findings from the report including who is being assaulted, who they perpetrators are, and barriers that exist for reporting and support: 

Who is being assaulted?

Statistics Canada states that one in three women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. However, Saskatchewan currently has one of the highest rates of sexual violence across the country. Our research findings reinforce that women are more likely to experience sexual violence (88.35%) and suggest that the majority of assaualts occurred between the ages of 13 and 23. 

Populations including Indigenous youth, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, and those living in rural and remote communities are significantly more vulnerable to sexual victimization.

Who are the perpetrators?

Survivors under the age of 18 years were most likely to be assaulted by someone they knew such as a family member, an acquaintance, or a friend. These assaults happened most frequently in their homes and schools.

Adults reported being assaulted most often by intimate partners, acquaintances, and intimate strangers. 

Reporting and Supports

Over 70% of participants told someone about the assault, however, only 23% reported to police. Instead, survivors sought support primarily from friends, family members, and counsellors. If a disclosure was not made within three days following the assault, survivors often did not disclose for at least two years.

The reasons given for not formally reporting to police or RCMP included:

  • fear of not being believed 
  • fear of being blamed for the assault, shame and embarrassment
  • fear of retaliation from perpetrator or perpetrator’s network
  • anonymity concerns 
  • lack of understanding that the violations were crimes
  • lack of trust of law enforcement’s ability to handle sexual assault cases
  • fear of the criminal court process

Survivors were most satisfied recieving support from sexual assault and mental health counsellors and were least satisfied following experiences with police and the justice system. 

Survivors also identified various barriers to accessing services including:

  • anonymity concerns 
  • previous negative experiences with service providers
  • lack of transportation 
  • poverty 
  • shame and being blamed for the assault
  • homophobia and lack of inclusive services
  • lack of support from friends and family
  • lack of services for minors and youth
  • lack of Indigenous services
  • internalized beliefs
  • mental illness
  • being told that the assault was not legitimate
  • fear of retaliation
  • limited operating hours for services

If you or someone you know is in need of support, visit our website to find counselling and support services in your community. 

Press Release

Executive Summary

Full Report

*This study has been funded by the Women and Gender Equality Canada’s Women’s Program.

3 Short Videos From The Holistic Psychologist That Will Help You Heal At Home

As we transition into the new normal of staying at home during this time of global crisis, we are also being given an opportunity to practice new ways of healing.

We know there are many of you out there who are feeling unsure of how to heal without the regular support of counseling services or group programs as many have had to close their doors or limit their availability during this time.

If you are seeking alternative ways to heal at home, here are three different videos from The Holistic Psychologist to help you begin or continue your self-healing journey.

  1. 3 Important Tools For Healing

In this video, Dr. Nicole LePera shares three tools for healing that focus on observing your thoughts, making intentional choices, and developing a consistent practice.

In this video, Dr. Nicole LePera reminds us that our emotions are a mind and body experience that are valid and offers three practices that will help you move through emotional triggers.

In this video, Dr. Nicole LePera talks about the Vagus nerve that controls your nervous system and how you can develop a practice that helps you shift out of a constant state of stress and into a state of resting and healing.

To learn more about self-healing practices, subscribe to The Holistic Psychologist on YouTube or follow her on Instagram @the.holistic.psycholigist.

Remember: Wherever you are and whatever you’re feeling, know that you are not alone.

How to Become a First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse

According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

While survivors of sexual assault are disproportionately women, the reality is that sexual assault can happen to any person, any age, no matter their gender or ethnicity. Sexual assault happens every day and most frequently in homes of friends, families and co-workers.

85% of survivors are assaulted by someone they know.

Because of the relational and personal nature of this crime, survivors often live in silence and shame. Dominant societal myths about sexual assault reinforce the misconceptions that survivors are responsible for the crimes that have been committed against them. This further contributes to very low reporting rates to law enforcement, and results in survivors not reaching out for medical or counselling assistance.

Survivors who receive safe and supportive responses to disclosures of sexual violence are more likely to reach out to medical and counselling services or report to police.

With the support from the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) and our funder, the Ministry of Justice, we have implemented the First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse Training™ in Saskatchewan.

The First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse Training™ is a two-day course designed to educate individuals about the social, cultural and legal aspects of sexual assault and abuse, which will enable them to recognize, define and respond appropriately to the continuum of behaviours that constitute sexual assault and abuse.

The First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse Training™ benefits professionals, paraprofessionals, and community members who are interested in increasing their knowledge and skills to address disclosures of sexual violence.

The training is designed to aid those who work with individuals who have, or are at risk of, experiencing sexual violence. This includes, but is not limited to, those working in the fields of Physical and Mental Health, Justice, Social Work, and Education.

Individuals who have been trained in Saskatchewan include: Elders and Religious Leaders, University Students, Crisis Workers, Teachers, Nurses, Police and RCMP, Army Support Workers, Tribal Councils and Family Court Mediators.

Through the First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse Training™, our goal is to build capacity for professionals, volunteers, and community members throughout Saskatchewan to assess and respond effectively to disclosures of sexual assault and abuse. This should help ensure that those who have experienced sexual violence reach out for the help they need, and that they are provided with resources and empathy after disclosing.

If you’re interested in learning more about The First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse Training™ and where to register for training in Saskatchewan, click here.


Resource References

Statistic Canada 2013 Report:
www.statcan.gc.ca, Association of Albert Sexual Assault Services:
www.aasas.ca

How to Respond to A Sexual Assault Disclosure

A sexual violence disclosure is when a person tells another person about an incident of sexual abuse or assault. The disclosure may be of a recent incident, it may have occurred in the past (historical), or it may be ongoing. A survivor’s choice to disclose should be treated as distinct from making a report to formal authorities, even if sometimes they are one and the same event.

When the disclosures are minimized, dismissed or the survivors were blamed and shamed for the assault, this negatively impacts the survivors’ ability to move forward with their healing journey. In cases of children and youth, a dismissed disclosure can lead to further revictimization when children are not removed from unsafe environments.

Based on our research, the vast majority (71.1%) of primary survivors told someone about their assault. The majority of these disclosures were made to friends (79.3%) and family members (57.7%), followed by counsellors (school counsellors, mental health counsellors, etc.) at 45.7%.

We found that more than one-third (37.6%) of these disclosures happened within one to three days following the assault. Another 34.5% told within the space of one year and unfortunately, another 27.9% of survivors would take more than two years before disclosing the assault to anyone.

This means that survivors who feel as though they don’t have someone to disclose to within one to three days following the assault, will go on to suffer in silence for months and  years without disclosing their experience to anyone.

Our hope is that, by providing you with some crucial conversation tips, you can be equipped to respond appropriately should someone in your life disclose a sexual assault to you.


How To Support A Minor Disclosing Abuse

  • Do not question the story unless you truly do not understand what the child said
  • Do not judge the child, their feelings, or behaviours
  • Let the child set the emotional tone and pace
  • Only collect enough information to lead you to believe the abuse has occurred and ensure that your report to law enforcement or Ministry of Social Services is verbatim as possible.
  • Assess the child’s safety and if where the person who assaulted them has access to the child in the near future.
  • Report your concerns immediately to the Ministry of Social Services Child Protection Unit or your local law enforcement agency

It’s important to let the child know you are glad they trusted you enough to share and that you need to tell someone who can help to keep them safe.

Remember that everyone in Saskatchewan has a duty to report a suspicion or knowledge of child sexual abuse to the Ministry of Social Services or to the police.

How To Support An Adult Disclosing Assault

  • Let the individual who has been assaulted set the emotional tone and pace of the discussion
  • Let the individual know that they can express how they feel openly
  • Reassure the individual that they are not alone
  • Assist the individuals with any major concerns or need that may need to be addressed
  • Don’t ask the individual why they did not disclose sooner

As family and friends, it can be difficult to hear the painful disclosure of a loved one and we often do not know what to do and what to say. The person who has committed the assaulted may be a person that you know, care about, or respect in the community. It is important to understand that what matters most is the survivor feels heard, believed, supported, and that he/she/they has done the right thing by telling you.

Here are three crucial conversation tips that will help you respond appropriately to a sexual assault disclosure:

Listen To Receive

Often times, when we are in conversation with someone, we feel the need to respond immediately to what the other person is sharing with us, especially if the person we are talking to is expressing a personal matter.

When someone discloses a sexual assault to you, they want their story to be heard by someone they trust. The best way you can ensure that they feel heard is to listen to receive, and not to respond.

Give the other person space to share what happened and express their emotions. By being witness to what they’re going through without responding immediately, will help the other person feel more comfortable disclosing to you.

Show You Care Through Your Body Language

A person who has been assaulted has experienced a violation of their physical autonomy. It is therefore important to take direction from the person as to what their needs may be around physical contact and space. Below are some ideas on how you can use your eyes contact, physical space and voice in making the other person feel heard, safe and supported.

Be aware of the physical space between you and the person who is disclosing. Look for indications that they may feel uncomfortable with the space between you such as moving their body away, not looking at you, looking at the door often, etc. Check in if it appears they are uncomfortable and adjust the space accordingly.

Be aware of touch and do not assume the person wants a comforting touch such as a hug or a touch to their arm, hand etc. as this could trigger a trauma response in the person who has been assaulted or abused. If you believe a comforting touch may be helpful, if appropriate, you can let them know that they can ask for that from you.

Look at the individual; however, if direct eye contact appears to make the individual uncomfortable, look in their general direction and do not search or probe for eye contact.

Be aware of your voice. Your tone of voice may convey a sense of calm and safety or stress and panic, depending on how you are feeling about the disclosure. If you are feeling emotional about the disclosure, a genuine acknowledgement of the emotion without making the disclosure about “you” may help you to focus and the other person to understand your response to them.

If it helps to stay focused, take a few notes, however unless you are in a role of an investigator keep notes to a minimum and focus on the person telling his/her/their story.

Ask Questions That Are Helpful Not Hurtful

During difficult conversations, it can be hard to find the right words to say, and sometimes we don’t say much at all for the fear that what we say isn’t the right thing. This is part of being human and it’s okay if we don’t know what to say.

What we can do, is ensure that we don’t say anything that could be hurtful to the person disclosing to us. It’s important to avoid asking “why” questions like – “why did you go there?” or “why didn’t you call for help?”. You have to remember that what the person has experienced is traumatic and the last thing we want them to think is that they should have done something differently or that it was somehow their fault. Consider using helpful phrases like:

I believe you

It is not your fault

Thank you for telling me

I am sorry this happened to you

You are not alone

You are brave to speaking out

I hear you

I am here to help you to the best of my ability

It’s okay to have mixed feeling about the person who hurt you and to not want to get into trouble

I am going to try to get you some help with this

Lastly, the most important thing you can do is help the survivor take actionable steps towards their healing journey. Here is a list of support services available to you:

911

Dial 911 if someone you know is in immediate danger or at risk of assault

811 HEALTHLINE

Dialing 811, to receive a 24-hour health and mental health and addictions advice, education and support telephone line.

211 SASKATCHEWAN

Dialing 211 will connect you with a free, confidential, 24/7, multilingual service that can direct you to human services in the province, including services for people experiencing violence and abuse. The 211 website also offers web chat services or you can text “Hello” to 211 to access service.  Resources are listed on their website.

http://abuse.sk.211.ca/

REPORTING CHILD ABUSE

Anyone having reasonable suspicion that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be impacted by abuse or neglect has a legal duty to report that suspicion. 

Ministry of Social Services Child Protection Lines:

Regina (South): 1-844-787-3760

Prince Albert (North): 1-866-719-6164

Saskatoon (Center): 1800-274-8297

https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/justice-crime-and-the-law/child-protection/child-abuse-and-neglect

KIDS HELP PHONE

24-hour hotline for young people. Services include counselling, information and referrals.

Toll-Free: 1-800-668-6868

Text CONNECT to 686868 at any time to talk to a crisis responder. You do not need a data plan, internet connection or app to access this service.

www.kidshelpphone.ca

Reference:

Williams, T., Tocher, A., Ofrim, j., & Walroth, K. (2011). First Responder to Sexual Assault and Abuse Training, Participant Handbook. Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services.