Gender-based violence: Unwanted sexual behaviours in Canada’s territories, 2018 by Samuel Perreault, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics.
Canada recognizes the right to equality and the right to live in security for all. However, many people in Canada experience certain forms of violence because of their gender,Note how they express that gender identity or how it is perceived (Women and Gender Equality Canada 2020). Women, LGBTQ2+ peopleNote and various minority groups are most likely to be victims of sexual assault (Conroy 2018; Simpson 2018; Perreault 2015). These same population groups are also at increased risk of criminal harassment (Burczycka 2018a). These types of violence can have a number of negative consequences on the victims, including physical, psychological and economic impacts.
However, the violence that some people experience as a result of their gender or gender identity is not limited to criminal acts (Benoît et al. 2015). Certain behaviours that do not meet the threshold of a criminal act can nevertheless have significant negative consequences for those who experience them, in addition to contributing to the perpetuation of discriminatory stereotypes. For example, unwanted sexual attention or close contact, or inappropriate sexual comments received in person or online, can negatively affect a person’s sense of security or limit their activities (Bastomski and Smith 2017).
The risk of violent behaviour is not the same for every person across the country. For example, previous studies have shown that women and girls living in the territories experience a disproportionate number of violent crimes (Rotenberg 2019; Perreault and Simpson 2016). Several studies have also highlighted the increased risk of victimization among First Nations, Métis and InuitNote women, who account for a significant proportionNote of women in the territories (Boyce 2016; Brennan 2011a; Perreault 2011). Furthermore, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls revealed that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root causes behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls 2019).
In addition to an increased risk of victimization, victims of violence in remote or isolated areas face additional challenges due to their geographic location. A report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences identified various contextual elements that exacerbate the issues of violence faced by women and young girls in the territories, including easy access to weapons, little access to legal services, limited public transit and daycare services, economic difficulties and poverty, little access to services for women (e.g. women shelters, mental health services, etc.), barriers to maintaining the confidentiality of reports of abuse as well as social, cultural and psychological isolation (United Nations Office of the High-Commissioner for Human Rights 2019).
In 2018, Statistics Canada conducted the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), with the goal of collecting data to deepen our knowledge of gender-based violence in Canada.Note The SSPPS is part of Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence,Note and provides the government with the relevant, timely and representative data required to implement the strategy.
Measuring gender-based violence can be complex. Those experiencing violence and those perpetrating it may not perceive its root causes and motivations, which can be rooted in a culture that perpetuates gender inequalities. SSPPS respondents were therefore invited to share their experiences and the contextual elements around them to enable an analysis of these events from the perspective of gender-based violence. Unlike previous victimization surveys that were generally limited to recent criminal acts, the SSPPS makes it possible to measure the entire continuum of gender-based violence, by including violent victimization experiences throughout peoples’ lives, their experiences of unwanted sexual behaviours and online victimization, as well as their attitudes regarding certain stereotypes.
In addition to the present report, Statistics Canada’s Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and Community Safety also released a report outlining the first results of the SSPPS for the provinces specifically (Cotter and Savage 2019). The present report complements this earlier report by presenting the first results of the SSPPS for the territories, with a focus on unwanted sexual behaviours in public spaces, unwanted behaviours online and unwanted sexual behaviours in the workplace. Results are based on responses from more than 2,500 persons living in the territories, who were each assigned a weight so as to be representative of the entire territories population 15 years of age and older. This article takes a gender-based approach by comparing results between genders and, where possible, taking the intersection of various other characteristics into account. A separate report specific to the territories, which focusses on residents’ experiences with sexual and physical assaults, will be released in the near future.
Unwanted sexual behaviour in public spaces in the territories
As mentioned, gender-based violence encompasses an array of behaviours that do not necessarily reach the threshold of a criminal act, but which nevertheless compromise peoples’ feelings of safety in daily life and which can have serious repercussions for those who experience them (Benoit et al. 2015). These behaviours include inappropriate sexual behaviour in public spaces.
The SSPPS measured several types of unwanted sexual behaviour in public spaces, namely unwanted touching (including physical contact or getting too close in a sexual way), indecent exposure, unwanted comments that the individual does not look or act like a man or woman is supposed to act, unwanted comments regarding sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation, as well as unwanted sexual attention (including comments, whistles, and suggestive looks, gestures or body language).
In the context of the SSPPS, a public space is defined as a “place to which the public has access with little or no restrictions” (e.g., cafes, streets, shopping malls, public transit, bars, and restaurants).Note In addition, respondents were asked to report only those incidents where they felt threatened or uncomfortable.
Although these behaviours may sometimes be perceived as lacking the same degree of seriousness as sexual assault, these behaviours stem from social norms, structures and beliefs that are similar to those which underlie sexual assault—these all being forms of gender-based violence (Bastomski and Smith 2017; Mellgren et al. 2018).