For centuries of warfare, sexualized violence has been used as a weapon intended to punish, intimidate, and destroy communities, primarily by targeting the civilian women, children, and LGTBQ+ members of a society. 
Terrorizing calls for the blatant sexual assault of civilians (like we’ve seen in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia; Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq; Russia, Ukraine, Palestine, and Israel) are mobilizing people to target and assault women and children with the intention of breaking up families, causing mass fear, and demoralizing one’s enemy. These victims are left dehumanized, violated, and are often killed in the process. 
Back in 2014, the United Nations published a backgrounder entitled “Sexual Violence: a Tool of War”, wherein they stated that “the vast majority of casualties in today’s wars are among civilians, mostly women and children. Women in particular can face devastating forms of sexual violence, which are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives.” At ten years old, this backgrounder is no longer new information, and unfortunately, the UN has done little recently to acknowledge victims of this particular war crime or condemn the use of rape and sexualized violence as a weapon against civilians.

More recently, Anita Mureithi from The Organization for World Peace said, “[sexualized violence] is a clear war strategy and war crime that threatens international peace and security.” And while this may sound dramatic compared to gunfire and explosions, we guarantee you – the traumatic and wide-reaching impacts are more deeply impactful than you may realize.

For those victims that do survive, the impacts of sexualized violence persist long after a conflict is over; unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, stigmatization, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and a general lack of safety can impact a communities’ physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

In the last year, mixed with the intersectional issues of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and antisemitism, these calls for violence from faraway places have made their way onto Canadian soil. Canadian women, children, and LGBTQ+ people are being targeted (or experience fear of being targeted) because their identities connect them to a land where conflict is currently ensuing. Canadian citizens are experiencing threats of violence here, in our communities, and our neighbourhoods.

The fear of being used as chess pieces in a larger conflict is horrifying and all too common. Sexualized violence in conflict needs to be treated as the war crime that it is; not an unfortunate collateral damage of war.

Our bodies code all trauma the same (natural disasters, car accidents, sudden deaths, global pandemics, active war zones, sexualized violence, to name a few examples), and the threat of experiencing these kinds of traumas can often wreak similar havoc. The impacts are vast; physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual impacts are incredibly damaging and can leave survivors feeling unsafe in their bodies. Additionally, for folks who are already survivors, the added threat of further violence can trigger old flashbacks and memories, bringing forward pain that had long ago been addressed (or, in some survivor’s cases, buried for safety).

Media coverage on organized violence is often skewed or missing information that would paint an entire picture, but what SSAIC knows for sure is that gender-based and sexualized violence is inexcusable at all times, in and outside of active conflicts, and that opposing gender-based and sexualized violence should not be a political decision.

Please remember that all of our words, actions, and calls to justice impact real people, some of which may be your friends, coworkers, neighbours, or community members, and that sexualized violence should never be used as a tool to cause fear or gain status in a conflict. SSAIC believes in a community where people can live free of the threat of sexualized violence, and we are not currently living in that community yet.

For anyone feeling triggered or impacted by the increased sexualized violence coverage in the news, please know SSAIC is here for you. Call 306-244-2294 for support or to book an appointment.

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