A gentle caution: this piece contains references to family violence and sexualized violence. If you are in need of support, please call the Alberta OneLine for Sexual Violence at 1-866-403-8000 or the CMHA Distress Line at 780-482-4357.
40 years ago, in 1983, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-127, changing the legal landscape for those experiencing intimate partner and family violence in a specific way: spousal immunity regarding sexual violence was abolished, making it illegal to sexually assault one’s spouse. This law acknowledged the truth of sexual violence within family systems; that it is a crime of power and control, not a crime of unrestrained passion.
Exactly 4 decades on, sexual violence remains a significant part of family violence for many. In fact, sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that has not declined through the decades. The impact is immeasurable. For children, sexualized family violence in the home is considered an adverse childhood experience or an ACE, which can have severe acute and long-term effects on health and well-being even if they don’t experience the violence directly. Children who are exposed to family violence are at a higher risk for developing depression, anxiety, and chronic physical conditions including diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, subjection to violence in the home increases a child’s risk of displaying problematic sexualized behaviour toward themselves or others, the effects of which can ripple into other households and the larger community.
For intimate partners and spouses, sexual violence can be an overlooked element of abuse within a household. Many individuals struggle to discern that compromising on sexual activity or offering it as a way of de-escalating a violent partner is still non-consensual. Manipulation, pressure, and guilt are common tactics that, while not physically violent, are frequently used by abusive partners to gain coercive control and perpetrate sexual assault and abuse. When physical abuse does occur from one intimate partner to another, sexual violence may feel like a minimal issue – especially if it occurs in private or doesn’t leave visible markings. However, one of the primary principles of consent requires that it be freely given, without any feeling of obligation, fear, pressure, or compromise. If this principle is absent in an intimate partnership, consent is not fully obtained.
While it is true that family sexual violence is a delicate issue, stigmas around these crimes are changing every year in support of affected partners and children. There is no longer nowhere to turn. Alberta alone has over 50 emergency shelters and 14 sexual assault centres that provide a variety of specialized services to intimate partners and spouses who have experienced family and/or sexual violence. The Saffron Centre serves individuals over the age of 4 who have been impacted by sexual violence of any type, including counselling and specialized police and court support services. Our team is here to help and to reassure families that they are not alone. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence, Saffron is available to provide information, advocacy, and support. Call our centre at 780-449-0900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.