At times I mourn my marriage, when I remember the good times. The longer I’ve been gone the more I realize how few the good times were. But they were real, and for that I miss him so much sometimes. It’s the good times that make it so hard to move on. We built a special bond every time we made love to each other. Every single time was a big event. I loved every minute of it, when we would make each other so happy. If sex could save a marriage then ours would have lived forever. As it always happens, the fighting got worse and worse and I did not want to make love every time he wanted to. That’s when he turned on me. I never thought I had the right to say no. I found out the hard way.

Now I look back and wonder to myself what might have been. If only he had treated me right. If only he had stopped calling me names. If only he had stopped kicking me. If only he had been nicer. If only he had been less angry, maybe we would have had a chance. If only.

I know personally and in my work as a Stopping The Violence Counsellor at BWSS what sexual violence is all about. Many years ago I was raped by my then boyfriend. It was pretty clear to me and to others that it was rape – physical brutal force, bruises, extreme fear and survival behaviours were all involved. It is easier for many of us to name the extreme cases of sexual abuse as violence, as rape, as oppression because that is what is often portrayed around us – in the news, movies, books. However, sexual violence often involves very subtle and silent force. It happens daily in relationships and marriages. It happens daily in our justice system where women’s characters are being questioned by police and lawyers in rape cases. It happens daily on our streets and on buses where men “innocently” rub up on women.

I hear from women all the time how their husbands, boyfriends, and partners quietly force them in sexual acts with strong underlining messages such as, “If I’m not sexually satisfied…I’ll leave…I’ll find someone else…I won’t let you see the children…I’ll tell everyone how you’re a horrible wife and mother”. These messages soon get internalized and begin to oppress women’s sense of self, body, sexuality, power and rights. As I listen and witness the pain sexual violence and oppression causes women, I also hear and witness women’s strength, resistance, and struggle in reclaiming their sense of self, sexuality, and bodies.

BWSS held educational workshops on Sexual Health for women to better understand how living in a hierarchical and patriarchal society where violence and trauma is an everyday threat and reality for women impacts their sexuality and sexual health. In addition, to look at how women can reclaim and own their power over their own sexuality and being.

In Canada, it was only in 1983 that the Criminal Code dealing with rape was revised to include a number of additions one being that a husband can now be charged with sexually assaulting his wife. Originally the law saw rape as an offence against the property of men. Men who raped had to pay compensation not to the woman, but to her father or husband for having “soiled his property” (The Canadian Woman’s Legal Guide, 1988). The other revisions to the Criminal Code regarding rape cases were:

• rape was now referred to as sexual assault

• wider range of activities from sexual harassment to forced sexual intercourse were included

• penetration was abolished as a requirement for rape

• limiting the kind of questions defense lawyers could ask a woman regarding her previous sexual history

• victims could ask for a ban on the publication of her name and identity (The Canadian Women’s Legal Guide, 1988)

BWSS is committed to helping women better understand and resist sexual oppression. Future workshops and support groups will be offered…stay tuned! Further information on the impact of sexual violence and on sexual healing can be found in such books as “The Sexual Healing Journey” by Wendy Maltz and “The Courage to Heal Workbook” by Laura Davis.