SOS – Supporting Our Sisters: Narratives from the Margins
Introduction: Early exposure to experiencing or witnessing sexual violence/trauma disproportionately permeates the lives of young racialized women. In order to interrogate this problem, this research explores the impact of sexual trauma, and exploitation through the eyes of young racialized women, aged 18–24 years, whose voices are often absent. We interrogate three broad themes: (1) the impact of mental health for those who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence; (2) interrogating the interlocking of age, gender, race, and neighborhood as it compounds the experiences of sexual violence; and (3) understanding of the services and accessibility for survivors of sexualized violence/trauma and strategies towards increasing accessibility.
In partnership with two young women, trained as peer researchers, and who have lived experiences of sexual violence, this research captures narratives, counter-narratives, and recommendations for “best practices” within services. This research calls attention to the voices of young racialized women as experienced informers for service provision and demands recognition regarding their specific service needs.
Main Argument: From my community practice working alongside young racialized women, it is evident that early exposure or experience of sexual violence has impacts on long-term mental wellbeing. Extensive literature exists to address the interlocking of race, age, gender, and neighborhood as it relates to the pervasiveness of sexual violence in the lives of young racialized women. This chapter briefly highlights these discussions, and delves into the research findings revealing young racialized women’s narratives of witnessing or experiencing sexual violence, and their recommendations for “best practices.”
Black Feminist Theory (hooks, 2000; Hill-Collins, 2003) and concepts of intersectionality (Crenshaw, as cited in Gibson, 2015) and narratives underpin this research. Hill-Collins (2003) discusses African American women as confronting race, gender, and oppression while intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991) assumes that “Black identity cannot be separated from female identity or from class identity” (p. 2). This research infuses this and recognizes the parallels in and amongst race, gender, class, and age in relation to sexualized violence and access to services.
Discussion: Through employing narrative, via interviews and focus groups, 25 young racialized women reveal their unique experiences dealing with sexualized violence, its subsequent impact on their mental wellbeing, and access to support services towards healing.
Implications: This research explores young women’s awareness regarding the impact of sexual violence. To explore this impact three broad themes are discussed: (1) implications for mental health; (2) exploring the interlocking of race, age, gender, and neighborhood; and (3) awareness, access, and experience of support services. The narratives will inform on the types of services and policy that are required to address experiences of sexual violence. Furthermore, they speak to the need for an integrated model of care amongst existing services that are considered inaccessible to young women who are racialized, specifically those living in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.
KeywordsRacialized young women Sexual violence Sexual trauma Sexual exploitation Qualitative methods Narrative Intersectionality
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