Sexuality is, by default, a politicized subject. As a matter of fact, today’s government policies, as well as historical events, reflect this political foray into the realm of sexuality. Put forth by the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the private sector has become the subject of social and political demands.
At the heart of the appeals of feminists, was the desire to bring together common individual difficulties so that they may be recognized collectively as they were shared by a large number of women (Hanisch, 1969). This collective women’s movement revealed that access to a fulfilled and safe sexuality was mainly reserved for men (Hanisch, 1969).
In the 1990s, feminist activists of different backgrounds decried the inequalities amongst women (Bilge, 2009). The heterogeneous realities experienced by women are most evident through testimonies associated with sexual violence. Feminist theorists and activists have highlighted the importance of analyzing sexual violence in the light of different systems of oppression, considering that a plurality of experience results from it. In other words, the patriarchy cannot be understood only by gender—systems of oppression intersect and exacerbate the contexts of vulnerability experienced by women (Collins, 2009; Combahee River Collective, 2000; Crenshaw, 1991).
Documenting the Realities of All Women
It is hoped that protest movements such as #MeToo (Pineda, 2017), contribute largely to a greater comprehension of sexual violence and to an increased empathy towards victims of said violence. However, in the wake of this movement denouncing sexual violence, groups have lifted the veil on the inequity of speech between women. The voice of a white woman in good financial standing is more likely to be heard than that of any other woman (Jones, 2018).
In scientific literature, the multiple contexts of vulnerability are rarely addressed directly, especially in regard to domestic violence (Sasseville, 2018). The same pattern can be observed in an examination of sexual violence. Without necessarily associating the prevalence rate of sexual violence to the social dynamics of discrimination, data can be found concerning the extent of the reach of sexual violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States reports that racialized women have the highest rates of sexual victimization in the country (Smith et al., 2017). The U.S. Department of Justice reveals that young women from low-income rural areas report having experienced more sexual violence than other women (Planty et al.,2016). Women with disabilities are four times more likely to experience sexual assault than women without disabilities (Martin et al., 2006). Aboriginal women in Canada have much higher rates of physical and sexual violence than non-Aboriginal women (Bergeron et al., 2018). These high prevalence rates reveal the possible increased risk of experiencing sexual violence for groups finding themselves at the intersection of multiple systems of oppression.
These alarming rates should not be limited to findings in studies, but should rather be at the very core of new research questions aimed at explaining these differences (Hamby, 2015). Considering that sexual violence can lead to multiple physical and psychological difficulties (Vézina-Gagnon et al., 2018), accessibility to help and support resources are essential. However, these women are faced with the social dynamics of discrimination which shape their experience with violence, but also their search for help (Lessard et al., 2015). A number of women experience secondary victimization when seeking help by facing an inadequate system. Considering that prevention and intervention strategies are based on research data, it seems the very production of this research should reflect intersectionality. Conscious research would encourage the adaptation of help and support services from an intersectional perspective.
Currently, a gap can be observed in the available support resources. For example, the ones specialized in sexual violence may not be adapted for intervention with people in the LGBTQ+ communities and the resources for LGBTQ+ communities are not necessarily adjusted for intervention in sexual violence. Thus, while consulting a resource for sexual violence, a lesbian woman could feel compelled to reveal her sexual orientation, in addition to the sexual violence experienced, if the worker makes heterocentric remarks. This would result in a double disclosure that may not be desired by the victim. As a result, the lack of convergence of expertise when it comes to sexual violence in particular, hampers the availability of services that are adapted to all.
Guide for Empirical Research Illustrating the Plural Realities of Women
Sherry Hamby (2015), a leading authority on violence against women, suggests optimizing scientific research on violence, particularly in regard to racialized groups, in order to adapt prevention and intervention programs and the services offered to victims. She states that, “if we wish to change the world, the scientific approach is to understand fully how race operates with respect to violence so that we might better design interventions to address and ameliorate existing disparities”.
A similar guide should be considered and adapted to Quebec’s reality. In this sense, sexology, specifically research on sexual violence, positions itself at the forefront by revealing the importance of intersectional realities in the comprehension and management of sexual violence. Researching sexual violence often means developing or improving the services offered to the public. Considering that many women face barriers when they seek support, it is important to document the realities of these groups so that women can benefit from the same quality and accessibility to services as the dominant group.
As feminist researchers, it is in our interest to aim for the recognition of all women in the field of sexual violence, particularly by defending empirical research based on intersectional feminism.
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