Victims are doing it for themselves

Guila BenchimolVictims are doing it for themselves: Examining how victims of sexual violence become anti-sexual violence advocates

Researcher: Guila Benchimol

Conversations about sexual violence continue to dominate headlines in both Canada and the United States. Examples include the allegations of sexual violence against celebrities, such as Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, and the stories of campus sexual assault highlighted in the documentary The Hunting Ground (Carter 2016; Cole 2016). Politicians, too, are focused on sexual violence such as the Ontario government’s commitment of $41 million to curb sexual violence (Benzie 2016). In many cases, the voices of victims have fueled the global conversation around sexual violence and many of the victims in recent sexual assault cases have characterized themselves or have been characterized as activists or advocates (Brothers 2016; Houpt 2016; Yashari 2016; Kort 2015). Victims of sexual violence who go on to raise awareness about sexual violence are not a new phenomenon. However, the process and experiences involved in the move from victim to advocate have yet to be studied. Therefore, this study is guided by the following research question: How do some victims of sexual violence later become advocates for victims of sexual violence?

Drawing upon labeling theory, researcher Guila Benchimol examines the parallels between primary, secondary, and tertiary deviance (Lemert 1951) and primary, secondary, and tertiary victimization (Kenney 2002) to explore the process through which a victim of sexual violence becomes an advocate. Primary and secondary deviance can explain the process of becoming a victim through the conceptual counterparts of primary and secondary victimization (Karmen 2007; Taylor et al. 1983). Tertiary deviance, in which those who have been shamed, silenced, and marginalized demand recognition and rights, can explain victims’ move to advocacy (Kitsuse 1980; Kenney 2002). Her study also draws upon stigma theory (Goffman 1963) to understand how one’s experience(s) of victimization and subsequent ways of managing the experience, including silence and disclosures, have impacted each participant. By turning its attention to tertiary deviance (Kitsuse1980) and stigma transcendence (Osborne 1974), Benchimol seeks to broaden an understanding of how participants work to overcome the processes set in motion by the various stages of victimization. Feminist theory will also be utilized because it addresses some of the criticisms of stigma theory by considering race, class, and gender and providing a more representative language that captures the complexity of the resistance process involved in overcoming stigma (Riessman 2000a).

This study will fill the gaps in the literature on tertiary deviance overall and the direct links between the three levels of deviance and the three levels of victimization (Kenny 2002). In considering the impermanence of stigmatization (Riessman 2000a), it will also serve to counter the general literature that focuses solely on the deleterious aspects of victimization to show that people can and do move out of the discreditable victim identity into the more positive identity of advocate (Kitsuse 1980; Kenney 2002; Hammack and Cohler 2011). This study will also explore whether advocates who have previously experienced victimization can best lead the fight against sexual violence and inform policymakers and service providers about victims’ needs and how to help them move out of victimhood.

Guila Benchimol is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Guelph. Her research examines crimes committed both in and outside of insular communities. Her dissertation project will examine how some victims of sexual violence go on to become anti-sexual violence advocates or activists. Under the supervision of Dr. Myrna Dawson, she will study the various processes that survivors experience, including victimizations and disclosures, which lead them to advocate. Her M.A. thesis examined how the 2011 Kletzky murder in Brooklyn, New York’s Orthodox Jewish community affected community members as well as whether it was a catalyst in pushing the boundaries the larger Orthodox Jewish community maintains. It also analyzed whether community members were united or divided in how to address communal concerns that arose following the crime. Guila serves as a research assistant for various projects for the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence and has worked for the Canadian federal government at the Competition Bureau. She has also worked with victims of crime at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. Her research interests have been influenced by her first career as a Jewish educator. Guila was the Director of Judaic Studies at Tiferes Bais Yaakov and the Managing Director for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth in Toronto. Guila is a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar and a consultant for Jewish institutions on their community safety and protection policies. She has published several op-eds about sexual violence and sexual violence in the Jewish community for Huffington Post Canada, The Jewish Week, Canadian Jewish News, Alt-Muslimah, Times of Israel, and more. She has been invited to address rabbinical students, advocates, mental health professionals, academics, and interfaith groups in Canada, the United States, and Israel about her work.