How our graduate students are contributing to complex societal issues – International Women’s Day

Marie-Lou Villeneuve

Master’s – School of Social Work

Sexual Violence Against Women

Tell me about your journey?

During my university studies, specifically at the undergraduate level, I had only one desire, to support people in need. Like all my classmates, I was animated by my desire to intervene with/for people in vulnerable situations. On the other hand, I was far from thinking that I would soon be led to militate actively against violence to women.

I had the opportunity to do an internship in a shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence in Belgium. I worked with a great team, with whom I was able to develop my feminist thoughts and to take an interest in the values associated with this movement, values that are still for me very much at heart today.

What motivated or inspired you to do research on sexual violence against women?

On returning home, I realized that violence against women was also very present here, probably, I must admit, more than I would have imagined. Our society has been immersed in various debates surrounding the issue of sexual violence and the culture of rape. Survivors began to speak, to unveil and to report public assaults. One might think, among other things, of the case of Ghomeshi and to the movement #BeenRapedNeverReported. In addition, upon my return, I landed a job as a case worker in a shelter for women who are victims of spousal abuse, my reflection on sexual violence continued. The stories of these women have enabled me to better understand the extent by which sexual aggression has affected their lives. My experiences made me want to start a master's degree in social work, which would allow me to research the sexual reality of women survivors.

Why is your research important in today’s society?

I believe, therefore, at least I hope, to raise the veil on the subject and thus to initiate a reflection on the services offered to these women. I like to think that every research that denounces violence against women, like mine, can make a positive contribution to the struggle for equality and recognition of violence as a social phenomenon. Finally, perhaps my research can give an answer to women who wonder if they will one day regain power over their bodies and their sexuality.

What would you like to see or accomplish in the future with your research?

In the near future, I hope, survivors of sexual exploitation are taken more seriously, that victims are taken seriously and not led to believe they are responsible for the abuse. To do this, I would like, that the legal system support and defends adequately women survivors. It is clear that in order to achieve this, it is essential to continue the struggle for equality between men and women. When one woman in three is a victim of a form of sexual violence in the course of his or her life, efforts to counter this phenomenon will need to be put in motion to ensure the right to security, integrity, freedom and respect for all women, regardless of age, status, culture, ethnicity, religious belief, orientation or gender identity. Finally, my desire to help people has turned into a struggle for equality and rights women and I will continue to fight, as long as it takes!

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