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Intersectionality

Intersectionality describes the experiences of those living at the intersection of two or more marginalized identities and is a useful framework for understanding the realities of sexual violence.

Origins of Intersectionality

In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to describe the unique forms of discrimination faced by people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, such as Black women at the intersection of racism and sexism.1 The discrimination faced by Black women is distinct from the discrimination faced by Black men and white women, and it can’t be explained by sexism or racism alone. Intersectionality provides a framework to understand these unique experiences of discrimination.

Watch this TED talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw herself about the urgency of intersectionality:

Intersectionality as a Framework for Understanding Sexual Violence

We know that people of all genders can perpetrate or experience sexual violence, and people of all genders deserve to be believed and supported in their healing journeys. We also know that viewing sexual violence through a gendered lens allows us to see patterns that help us address the root cause of it. More specifically, the majority of people committing acts of sexual violence are men and the majority of people experiencing it are women.2

Beyond a gendered lens, intersectionality helps us understand the patterns of sexual violence even more clearly. It illuminates the reality that those who live at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities—like Indigenous women, women living with disabilities, or trans people of colour—experience sexual violence at higher rates.3 For example, women living with disabilities experience two times the amount of violence as women living without disabilities. Women living with disabilities who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, experience two times the amount of violence as women living with disabilities who identify as straight.4

Intersectionality also allows us to understand the barriers that people face when choosing to disclose or report their experiences of sexual violence. For example, Black women are less likely to report their experiences of sexual violence out of fear of not being believed or not having access to culturally competent resources,5 and men convicted of raping a white woman face harsher penalties than men convicted of raping a Black woman.6

1Crenshaw, Kimberle (1989) “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiractist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8. Available at http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8

2Benoit, C., Shumka, L., Philips, R., Kennedy, M. C., Belle-Siel, L. (2015, December). Issue brief: Sexual violence against women in Canada. Status of Women Canada. https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/svawc-vcsfc/index-en.html

3Status of Women Canada (2020, October 10). About Gender-Based Violence. https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/violence/knowledge-connaissance/about-apropos-en.html

4VAW Learning Network (2019, January). Issue 27: Women with disabilities and D/deaf women, housing, and violence. http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/issuebased_newsletters/issue-27/index.html

5RAINN (2020, June 19). For many Black survivors, reporting raises complicated issues. https://www.rainn.org/news/many-black-survivors-reporting-raises-complicated-issues

6Tillman, S., Bryant-Davis, T., Smith, K., & Marks, A. (2010). Shattering silence: Exploring barriers to disclosure for African American sexual assault survivors. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, Vol 11(2), 59-70. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838010363717