Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Goli Rezai-Rashti


Conducted through a qualitative case study, this dissertation focuses on 15 racialized women’s experiences of sexual violence and harassment while attending a post-secondary institution in Ontario, Canada. Drawing on the notion of intersectionality as a conceptual and theoretical framework, this study investigates how the intersections of their identities shaped their experiences. Findings revealed a number of critical insights with respect to the racialized dimensions of sexual violence and harassment. The behaviours, comments, and actions participants received from men in inter-racial contexts illuminates the simultaneous experience of racialization, sexism, and fetishization which makes racialized women vulnerable to sexual violence and harassment. Although few participants in this study experienced intra-racial sexual violence and harassment, this study’s focus on both inter-racial and intra-racial contexts provides important insight into the qualitatively different ways in which sexual violence and harassment is experienced by racialized women; demonstrating how the intersections of social identity shapes the behaviours and comments of perpetrators as well as how women interpret their experiences vis-à-vis the racial and gendered identities of their perpetrators. Findings of this study also revealed that women often drew upon the intersections of their identities when contemplating disclosure to informal support systems, such as family and peers. With regards to family, the issue of ‘culture’ as a barrier to disclosure and shaping feelings of self-blame were discussed. While I problematize the overemphasis on culture as the sole reason for why women choose to remain silent, I argue that it is not helpful to ignore culture. Instead, it is necessary to consider how cultural norms and values, as well as structural inequities, simultaneously impede upon women’s disclosure decisions. Although few participants in this study disclosed to an on-campus sexual violence service, the experiences of the few who did provides insight into the implications of disclosing for racialized women vis-à-vis structural inequities within post-secondary institutions.This dissertation thus challenges one-size-fits-all narratives with regards to sexual violence and harassment as solely an issue of gender inequality, and critiques the limitations of existing government and post-secondary policies. This study thus has significant implications for sexual violence policies and services in higher education.

Summary for Lay Audience

This dissertation is study of 15 women who self-identify as racialized women and have experienced sexual violence and/or harassment while attending a university in Ontario, Canada. Racialized women refers to women who do not identify as White. The main theoretical framework used for this study is intersectionality, a theory which considers how social identity categories, such as but not limited to gender, race, class, and religion overlap. Intersectionality considers how different forms of inequality are simultaneously experienced, and thus challenge focusing solely on single-identity categories. In this study, an intersectional approach is utilized to understand how race and ethnicity intersects with gender to shape women’s experiences of sexual violence and harassment. The findings of this study found that the intersections of identity informed why women were targeted by male perpetrators. The present study found that perpetrator’s in inter-racial contexts (where the perpetrator and participant’s racial identities were different) often drew on intersecting racial and gendered stereotypes and perceptions of non-White women in their comments, actions, and behaviours towards women. In intra-racial contexts, some participants believed that they were targeted because they shared a similar racial background as their perpetrators. The results of this study reveal that race had as much to do with why women were targeted as much as their gender did. This study also found that the intersections of identity shaped women’s disclosure to both informal networks, such as family and peers, as well as formal on-campus services. While ‘culture’ was discussed by some participants as a barrier to disclosure, I challenge the overemphasis on culture as the main reason for why women choose to not disclose. Although I do not ignore culture, I argue that we need to also consider how societal inequities inform racialized women’s disclosure decisions. Although a small number of participants did disclose to on-campus services, the findings of this study reveal the limitations of such services for helping racialized women. Finally, this study also examines Ontario’s Bill 132, which expects all public post-secondary institutions in the province to have a sexual violence policy. Moreover, I critique several post-secondary sexual violence policies. I argue that the limitations of these policies has implications for racialized women. This dissertation is intended to help us further understand the experiences of racialized women and to inform more inclusive and equitable sexual violence policies, services, and resources in higher education.