In 2015, the External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces collected the stories of 700 individuals who has been sexually assaulted during their time in the military. Since the release of this review, the CAF has taken measures to prevent and address sexual misconduct. But many of those 700 individuals, many of whom are no longer in the CAF, many of whom are victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), are struggling to find pertinent resources.
Motivated by her own experiences and the realization that there aren’t enough resources out there, Marie-Claude Gagnon, created the “It’s Just 700” website as a platform for support and information for MST victims.
“When I was trying to seek help and support it was really difficult to find. Because of that I figured there was a need for support,” said Gagnon.
Gagnon, who served in the Naval Reserves for seven years, left the military after her experiences with sexual assault and is living with MST.
According to her website, MST is “the term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to refer to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that a Veteran experienced during his or her military service.”
Gagnon first launched the site after the review was released and is run by a group of individuals living with MST.
“There was a lot of people that were having their own opinion about what it is, they didn’t agree with it. The social media platforms became a place that were not supportive for victims. Because of that there was a need for us to have our own platform where we won’t be harassed by other peoples opinions or experiences,” said Gagnon.
She elected to name this platform “It’s Just 700 because of the negative views people had after the review came out.
“The reason why its called ‘It’s Just 700’ is because those couple of arguments about there was only 700 people who reported to the commission, it’s just 700 people..well we’ll gather together as a group and support each other,” explained Gagnon.
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), however, does not provide substantial resources or information on MST. In fact, the VAC Stakeholders Summit in early May was the first time MST has been brought up in a formal setting, says Gagnon. The consequence, according to Gagnon, is that many MST victims can’t access the services or resources that other ill and injured military members can.
“If a person is a reservist and they’re doing PT on their own time and injures themselves on their own they can get service related injury cover by that. But a person sexually assaulted in the parking lot won’t because it isn’t considered service related because it was after hours,”
The website is a kind of safe haven for MST victims, providing them with support and resources including information on how to make claims, legal questions and various relevant events. The organization also can provide support when a military member decides to report an incident to the military police. They also have a specific section for men, who make up 17 per cent of the group and have experienced MST. The website has reached over 5,000 individuals.
“For some people we are almost the bridge to making that first call and accessing the information,” said Gagnon.
Gagnon hopes that by working with VAC, services can be more inclusive for those living with MST.
“What I would like to see, the end goal, first of all, have a section on the veterans affairs webpage that tells exactly the services available to people…and having these policies changed a little bit to be inclusive of our needs so that more people can have access to the care they need, and more peer support provided as well,” said Gagnon.
For more information about MST visit the It’s Just 700 website.