Intersectionality is a theoretical framework that recognizes the structural dynamics of power and how one’s identity and experiences can be shaped and informed by factors such as race, class, gender, and age among other social relations. Intersectionality looks at how these overlapping factors can create a complexity of prejudices including oppression and discrimination against individuals and communities. It recognizes that facets of one’s identity such as race and or gender do not exist independently of each other, but rather, work in active unison with each other. Intersectionality can be understood as a prism that reflects the experiences of people and their varying degrees of marginalization.

The term intersectionality was coined by black feminist scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw, in 1989 to illustrate the interlocking systems of power and how it impacts those who are most marginalized in society. It was initially created in reference to the criticisms of mainstream feminism, where white, middle-class values dominated the movement and actively dismissed the voices of black women, who found it increasingly difficult to identify with the issues at the forefront of the movement. This encouraged black women to redefine and broaden feminist practices that were inclusive and recognized the challenges of all women. Intersectionality asserts that while all women may be subject to discrimination, some women face additional oppression due to their race.

It is important to recognize that assault can and does occur across all intersections of social locations and identities. However, significant and consistent evidence has demonstrated that it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by cis-gendered heterosexual men against women, particularly systemically oppressed women. Gender, age, Indigeneity, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability, poverty, experiences of childhood abuse, homelessness, and mental health struggles are a few factors that lead to a higher risk of sexual assault.

These intersections of identity are vulnerable to experiencing systemic and interpersonal violence due to a lack of appropriate support or intervention. Certain identities are marginalized by way of systematic and institutionalized oppression. Though there are varied and far-reaching impacts of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and capitalism, certain populations are made more vulnerable to violence. These vulnerable populations are often forced to embody spaces with higher risk and fewer supports. People with marginalized identities experience higher rates of violence due to the multifaceted systems of oppression and violence which target vulnerable people and create hierarchies of “safety” as marginalized people are less likely to report, or to be believed if they do report. These barriers leave these populations open to repeated experiences of violence and trauma, creating ripple effects in the lives of victims, which in turn can lead to further risk of re-traumatization and violence. It is essential to note that these populations are vulnerable due to the multifaceted and interlocking systems of oppression embedded in Canadian society, rather than any personal responsibility or failure.

For more information on intersectionality and anti-oppressive practice, see the CICMH Anti-Oppressive Practice Toolkit.

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