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Over the past academic year, I have been conducting research on the sexual assault prevention needs of the queer community in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong. Now that my research has come to an end, I can publicly report the findings that I have come across.
Determining the sexual assault prevention needs of a community that encompasses such a wide variety of identities proved to be more challenging than I had originally anticipated. The LGBTQIA2S+ community encompasses people with marginalized sexual orientations, gender identities, sexual practices, and bodies, which can all be defined under the umbrella term “queer”. However, these are all very different identities, and therefore have different needs. The most significant realization that I had during this research was that there is no single sexual assault prevention initiative that can be applied to the entire Peterborough-Nogojiwanong queer community. The answer to my research question had to be a complicated one.
First, we must acknowledge that queer people can experience sexual assaults in certain ways that non-queer people cannot. This includes being forced to have sex in a way that does not align with one’s gender identity or experiencing sexual assault used as a gender or sexual corrective behaviour. It is important to acknowledge such scenarios because oftentimes, we only hear of social scripts that depict women as victims of sexual assaults and men as perpetrators. These scripts that exclude queer experiences can make it more confusing for a queer person to recognize an assault. Queer people may also face certain circumstances like minority stress, internalized homophobia, heterosexism, external homo/bi/transphobia, or microaggressions, which can ultimately lead to an increased risk of victimization.
Measures that can be implemented to prevent sexual assault include community education on consent and healthy relationships, bystander intervention, sexual assault myths, etc., which include queer examples and scenarios. Education initiatives should also include teachings targeted towards non-queer people that teach individuals to be mindful of their own beliefs and knowledge about queer individuals. By acknowledging their own potential biases, individuals can attempt to become familiar with queer culture by listening to queer voices, attending and being involved with LGBTQIA2S+ educational events, challenging the homo/bi/trans-phobia and heterosexism around them by confronting discriminatory jokes and remarks, and using inclusive language and using someone's preferred name and pronouns. Trent University already has the Consent at Trent program, which is an hour-long seminar that all first-year students must attend during Orientation week, but it only occurs once during a student’s entire undergrad. Trent students could potentially benefit from additional education initiatives throughout their time at Trent. The Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre provides such education programs in Peterborough public elementary and high schools, as well as some post-secondary institutions, but they are not involved with schools in the Catholic school board. A partnership between KSAC and Catholic schools would help address the prevention needs of Peterborough-Nogojiwanong students attending these schools.
Adequate response services to survivors of sexual assaults can act as a preventative measure by providing enough care to prevent an assault from reoccurring, breaking a cycle of abuse. To achieve this, a queer person can be helped by building on their individual strengths, like supportive friends, family, workplaces, and queer community. However, it is important to consider that some resources that are available to survivors of sexual violence are not viewed as accessible by some queer people (for example: police, healthcare services, and shelters). Police services, in particular, have had a longstanding history of discrimination and harassment towards queer people, which has resulted in the distrust of police services within the queer community. This lack of trust results in fewer disclosures of sexual assaults to law enforcement. Police services must take initiative to build a foundation of trust with the queer community so that they can begin to adequately provide the safety and protection that is required of them. The Peterborough Police can begin with including information about sexual violence in the queer community on their website. The current sexual assault information on the website uses gender neutral pronouns, but fails to provide specific examples of ways that sexual assaults can occur to the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
When considering the results of this study, it is important to recognize that it assessed queerness and sexual assaults in a vacuum, and could not accommodate an intersectional approach. This means that this study did not acknowledge the prevention needs of queer people who may also experience oppression due to different aspects of their identity such as race, disability, age, culture, language, income level, etc. Future research would be required to assess the sexual assault prevention needs of other specific communities in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong.