Immigrants and racialized persons and sexual violence in Québec
The #BlackLivesMatter movement provoked a great deal of discussion in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by the Minneapolis police on May 25. Hundreds of demonstrations were organized around the world and thousands of people called out police brutality and systemic racism on social media. What does this have to do with sexual violence against immigrants and racialized persons* in Québec?
According to Status of Women Canada, racialized persons, people living in northern, rural and remote communities and newcomers to Canada are at greater risk of experiencing gender-based violence. In her study entitled Le sentiment de justice pour des femmes immigrées ou racisées survivantes de violences sexuelles, Laurence Ingenito confirms that by crossing these data with the racial discrimination experienced by these women when looking for housing, in a job market that does not recognize immigrants’ qualifications or diplomas, we see that immigrant women and women of colour are confronted with a multitude of factors that make them particularly susceptible to sexual violence.
As regards First Nations women, CRIPCAS (the Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Intimate Relationship Problems and Sexual Abuse) states in its memorandum on the state of the art in current research on sexual violence and First Nations women in Québec that it is realistic to say that approximately 25 to 50% of First Nations adults were victims of sexual assault before reaching the age of majority. In comparison, our research results show that the prevalence of sexual assault during childhood in the general Québec population is 10% for men and between 18 and 22% for women, which are comparable to rates around the world. According to a study by Lavoie et al (2007), Nunavik presents a ratio of 240 cases of sexual assault per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 77 per 100,000 for the rest of Québec (according to 2005 statistics from the Ministère de la Sécurité publique). Among First Nations communities in Québec, there is marked comorbidity between sexual assault and other problems: the prevalence of sexual assault is significantly higher among participants who have a problem related to gambling and money (66.7%), alcohol (44.1%) and drugs (47.3%).
The legal system
In her book Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism, lawyer and Ottawa University professor Elizabeth Sheehy reports that a racialized woman who reports a violent incident to the police will be taken less seriously and that her assailant will often be treated more leniently by the criminal justice system. A study by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) shows that cases involving homicides of Aboriginal women are less likely to be solved. Only 53% of murder cases in the NWAC database have been solved, as compared to 84% of all homicides in Canada.
Laurence Ingenito agrees, saying, “Although white women are confronted with several obstacles to obtaining justice when they report an incident of sexual violence, the experiences of immigrant and racialized women seem to be worse. The current justice system doesn’t just fail to give justice to survivors of sexual violence who are likely to experience racism, it revictimizes them.” (translation)
Racism and sexism are indissociable
Wikipedia defines intersectionality as “a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities (e.g., gender, sex, race, class, sexuality, religion, ability, physical appearance, height, etc.) might combine to create unique modes of discrimination and privilege.”
According to police statistics for 2015 provided by Québec’s Ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec, 86.8% of sexual assault victims are women. If the woman involved is an immigrant or racialized, the intersection between the two forms of oppression (racism and sexism) reinforce that dynamic. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women confirms that, by virtue of their sex, women are especially vulnerable to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. The phenomenon of racialized sexuality can also be seen in different sexual representations that are coloured by racism (racialized sexual harassment, eroticization of characteristic features of racialized persons, fantasies of sexual slavery, etc.).
Concrete impacts on medico-social intervention in designated centres
We all know that going to a designated centre to ask for help demands a great deal of courage and presents a certain number of obstacles for any victim of sexual assault. A memorandum submitted by RQ-CALACS entitled Racisme, sexisme et agressions sexuelles : des violences sexospécifiques, des effets dévastateurs reported that immigrants or racialized persons have to deal with even more obstacles in their search for help: lack of knowledge of available resources, fear of being rejected by their own community, inaccessibility of resources and lack of universal accommodations, fear of losing their immigration status, inadequate social support, and the effects of migration, overwork and poverty. Québec’s history of colonization may create mistrust among members of First Nations. Some of the last generation to attend Indian residential schools are only between 30 and 40 years old today. It is therefore crucial that we take into account the history of violence, underlying issues and the intersectionality of discriminatory characteristics in order to adapt our medico-social services to the needs, concerns and life experience of immigrant or racialized persons.
Québec Native Women (QNW) has drawn up a series of recommendations to be applied during interventions with members of Aboriginal communities. The following recommendations could be very useful for designated centres:
Fill out forms for them. Since children in residential schools were forced to write in French, filling out a form in French may trigger painful memories of their experience.
“Prostitution” and “sexual exploitation” may have different meanings for these victims. Avoid automatically using those terms. Discuss them to explore their meaning.
Avoid sitting directly across from the person. Place yourself at a 45° angle. For members of Aboriginal communities, the act of confiding in someone is like pouring out a river. If you place yourself at a 45° angle from the person, you will not block the river, allowing their words to flow more freely.
It is not necessary to use any formal form of address.
Avoid using long, complicated words. Use simple language.
Speak more slowly.
Don’t shy away from long silences.
For more information, consult the Indigenous Ally Toolkit published by the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy NETWORK.
* A racialized person is a person who is, or appears to be, a member of a group that has been subjected to racialization. Racialization is a process of political, social and mental othering by which a group of people is made to seem intrinsically different.