Sexual violence has been used, and is still used today, to perpetuate racism and colonialism. Attitudes and stereotypes that perpetuate sexual violence have deep historical roots. In conflict, the conquerors often look at the conquered people as dirty and unworthy of respect. Violence against them is normalized so that it isn’t considered ‘real’ violence.
A Long History of Violence
In North America, white colonizers used sexual violence to kill and dehumanize native populations. White slave owners considered Black people as property. Indigenous women and African American women have historically been viewed as ‘rape-able’. The high numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women indicate that these attitudes and stereotypes are still very present in Canadian society.
Popular culture too
Pop culture has a long history of portraying Black and Latina women as exotic and promiscuous, ‘asking for it’. Asian women are portrayed as submissive, at fault for experiences of sexual violence because they don’t stick up for themselves. The stereotypes promote the idea that racialized violence is deserved.
Stereotypes get embedded
Men of colour, especially Black men, have been stereotyped as criminals or predators in the process of racist and colonial expansion. The stereotypes associated with men of colour as sexual predators creates a narrative that justifies criminalizing them. Men of colour who report being sexually assaulted are less likely to be believed. They may be fearful of police because of traumatic histories and of being trapped in a racist criminal justice system. Survivors of colour who are assaulted by men of colour are less likely to report to the police to protect their communities from racist backlash. Black women in particular often fear that their report will reinforce the stereotype of Back men as sexual predators.
Muslims from collectivist communities have been stereotyped as “violent men and oppressed women”. Sexual violence against women in these communities is viewed as a result of the ‘Muslim culture’. Culture is blamed for forms of violence against Muslim women while it is not used to explain violence against mainstream White women. The stereotype perpetuates Islamophobia.
Sexual violence against people of colour has to be seen in light of racism and colonialism. Preventiion work toward ending sexual violence needs to be anti-racist, anti-oppression and anti-colonial and include training on trauma and violence informed approaches. Training and education should be part of every Society with mandatory training and annual reviews of policy and procedures.
Every story is unique
Survivors of sexual violence navigate multiple webs of oppression in their daily lives. This is not to say that all survivors sharing similar social identities will be impacted by sexual assault in the same way; while it is important to historicize and contextualize survivor narratives, it is equally important not to make assumptions about a survivor’s experience based on their perceived identities. Within these frameworks, every survivor experiences challenges in a unique way, and every story needs to be honored and respected.
Listen to Gabor Mate talk about the impacts of early childhood loss and trauma