Military Sexual Trauma Peer Support Program what we heard consultation report

Executive summary

Over the past number of years, it has become evident that sexual misconduct is a longstanding issue in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)Footnote 1. In response to this reality, there is an increasing need to establish more comprehensive support services for those affected by military sexual trauma (MST)Footnote 2. As such, a peer support program focused on the needs of current and former CAF members is being developed to add to the range of available resources.

Consultations with members of the MST community were held from October 11 to November 12, 2021. The information gathered from these consultations is intended to guide the development and design of the MST Peer Support Program, while acknowledging it may not be possible to act on all information shared during the consultations. This report summarizes the views and ideas shared by the members of the MST community who participated in the consultations.

What We Heard

There is a strong desire for individualized victim-centered programming, with a focus on the provision of multiple program format options and flexibility to move between different types of support. Additionally, effective matching of peer-to-peer supporter, group matching and safe, non-judgmental, supportive and confidential programming is paramount. Programming should be accessible in multiple locations in and out of military facilities.

Peer supporters should be knowledgeable, mentally fit, compassionate, empathetic, accepting of others, considered an equal, and have an understanding of the military environment. Peer supporters should also be trauma-informed, receive peer support training, with support and access to professional guidance.

A number of potential barriers to accessing MST Peer Support programing were identified throughout the consultations, including: geographical challenges, involvement of the military chain of command, as well as, stigma, shame and guilt.

Many participants suggested a need for broad program communication and careful consideration of program branding. It was also suggested that the program should be promoted by CAF leadership, both early in military careers and at transition phases. Finally, participants identified a need within the CAF to foster sexual misconduct prevention, focused on promoting open dialogue, reducing silence, fear, shame, and stigma.

Next Steps

Following this report, the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) will use the information collected during the consultation process to develop the MST Peer Support model. The model will continue to be reviewed and tested by the Peer Support Consultation Working Group and Subject Matter Experts Advisory Group with the end goal of launching the Peer Support Program in summer 2022.


As noted by Adam Cotter in the Statistics Canada report on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force, 2018, sexual misconduct includes a broad spectrum of behaviours ranging from inappropriate or unwanted jokes or comments to sexual assault, tends to impact women more than men and is a problem faced by many organizations. More recently, greater attention and awareness of these behaviours have been brought to light by global movements such as #MeToo. As a result, there have been increased discussions around how best to prevent these behaviours and support those who have been victimized or affected – both inside and outside the workplace.

Based on results from the 2016 and 2018 Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces conducted by Statistics Canada, reported rates of sexual misconduct have remained consistent. In 2018, approximately 900 Regular Forces members and 600 Primary Reservist members experienced sexual misconduct in the 12 months preceding the survey’s administration. This was not statistically different from 2016, when the survey was conducted for the first time. In 2018, the proportion of women in the Regular Force who reported being sexually assaulted (4.3% of the population) was approximately four times higher than that of men (1.1%). Similar results were found in 2016. The prevalence of sexual assault was almost six times higher for women in the Primary Reserve in 2018 (7.0%) than for men in the Reserves (1.2%)Footnote 3Footnote 4.

Specialized peer support is one of the highest priority interventions most frequently requested by survivors of sexual misconduct during military service. The recognition and request for peer support programming for current and former CAF members who have experienced sexual misconduct during military service has come from various sources and has been persistent over time. Since the publication of the External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces report in 2015, members of It’s Not Just 20K (previously known as It’s Not Just 700 (INJ700)) have been asking for MST peer support programming. In 2016, peer support was identified in the victim needs analysis completed by the Canadian Armed Forces Strategic Response Team-Sexual Misconduct (CSRT-SM), and it is a recommendation in the Survivor Support Strategy, a document developed in support of Schedule N of the Heyder-Beattie Final Settlement Agreement. In August 2020, the SMRC and VAC submitted a joint proposal for the inclusion of a peer support program in the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence led by Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE). In response to the increasing need to establish more comprehensive support services for those affected by military sexual trauma, the Government of Canada initiated the process of developing a MST peer support program.

The objective of the MST Peer Support Program is to provide equitable and sustainable access to online and face-to-face peer support to current and former CAF members who experienced sexual misconduct during their service. The MST Peer Support Program will fill a critical gap by providing emotional and social support to affected individuals while increasing awareness about available resources and services and increasing participants’ sense of empowerment and self-efficacy, thereby decreasing their isolation, stigma and shame, and contributing to their overall well-being and recovery.

The MST Peer Support Program will expand upon existing supports available to CAF members and Veterans who experienced sexual misconduct during their service. The program will be jointly developed and delivered by DND and VAC and operationalized through the SMRC. A Human-Centered DesignFootnote 5 philosophy focused on the needs of the MST community and which recognizes and respects the moral injury sustained by individuals impacted by MST will reinforce the service model.

In keeping with the Human-Centered Design philosophy, the SMRC and VAC engaged with CAF members and Veterans who experienced sexual misconduct during their service to gain feedback and insight on what the MST Peer Support Program should include.

Engagement process

Consultations were conducted through semi-structured individual and group online interviews led by members of the MST Peer Support Consultation Working GroupFootnote 6, the Subject Matter Expert (SME) MST Peer Support Advisory GroupFootnote 7, as well as members of the SMRC, who also ensured appropriate documentation was captured. The engagement process was guided by nine open ended questions (Appendix A) focused on key program development features, including:

In an effort to reach a diverse and wide-range of participants, the SMRC sent invitations to broad group of affected persons via its established networks and contacts. Initially, 55 people expressed an interest in participating in the peer support consultations. However, in the end, formal consultations were completed with 29 of the 55 participants who initially expressed interest. There are a number of reasons for this decrease in participation. For some individuals, timing was a key consideration, while others felt they were no longer in a position to participate due to their trauma experience and/or previous harm, and the potential for the interviews to be triggering and some did not respond to the invitation to participate.

The nine interview questions were provided to participants in advance of the consultations, and participants had the option of providing written responses only or submitting written responses and proceeding with either a one-on-one interview or a small group interview. Three written submissions, 25 individual interviews and one group interview took place from October 11 to November 12, 2021.

During the interviews, responses from the participants were documented by note takers. At the end of the engagement process, an iterative coding approach was used to summarize participant responses shared in the written responses and notes taken during the interviews. Each response was reviewed line-by-line and systematically assigned a descriptive code. The detailed codes were reviewed and grouped into higher-level categories to summarize responses by topic. This process continued until the data were organized into meaningful groups and sub-groups allowing for a detailed summary of all participants’ contributions. When interpreting the data, it is important to note the variation in level of detail in the notes taken during the interviews, and the frequency of similar feedback and insight shared by the participants. As a result, this report uses the descriptors ‘most’, ‘many’, ‘some’ and ‘few’ to describe the frequency which participants shared a common perspective (Appendix B).

Participants were also invited to complete a non-mandatory demographic survey in advance of the interview sessions. A breakdown of the demographic data can be found in the demographic tables located in Appendix C.

What we heard

Benefits of peer support

Participants shared several thoughts around the benefits of a peer support program for their healing and recovery, including:

Program format

Participants shared a number of perspectives related to the format/model of peer support (for example, in-person versus online; group versus one-on-one). For example:

In addition to the aforementioned comments on the model more generally, participants also expressed a number of thoughts relating to specific models of peer support:

One-on-one support

Group support

Online support

In-person support

Telephone support

Accessibility and Eligibility

Many participants discussed considerations around determining eligibility to participate in the program. Recommendations included:

Physical location considerations

Recommendations were also provided regarding the physical location for in-person meetings. For example:

Boundaries and expectations around behaviour

Group development and peer-to-peer matching considerations

A number of recommendations and considerations were shared by the participants concerning how groups should be developed or how peers should be matched at the individual peer level.

Desired qualities of peer supporters

Participants identified a wide variety of desired attributes of peer supporters, including those related to personal experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, and traits. Some of the more commonly identified qualities included:

Training and oversight

Many participants indicated that training should be provided to individuals involved in the peer support program, although the range of training domains varied.

Some participants discussed professional oversight of the program or the need for supporter or facilitator supervision and support. For instance:

Additional comments relating to training included:

Potential barriers to access

Participants identified a number of often interrelated barriers that may prevent them, or others who have experienced MST, from seeking support or accessing the program. Some of the most frequently shared barriers included:

Communications and outreach

The majority of participants shared considerations surrounding communications and outreach during their interview:

Additional considerations

Participants shared a number of thoughts and recommendations that spoke to additional program design and development considerations that were not specific to the domains discussed above, including:

Conclusion and next steps

The consultation process with current and former CAF members and Veterans who experienced MST during their service was meaningful and informative for all involved. Throughout the interviews, participants shared a wide range of valuable and thoughtful recommendations and perspectives. Based on what was heard, a number of key themes are evident:

The information collected during this consultation process will guide the development and design of the MST Peer Support Program being jointly developed by the DND and VAC.

The SMRC and VAC would like to sincerely thank all of those who participated in this engagement process, which has provided valuable insights and practical suggestions to building a MST Peer Support Program focused on the needs of the MST community. 

The SMRC and VAC will develop a MST Peer Support model based on what was heard. Work will continue with Consultation Working Group and Subject Matter Expert Advisory Group to develop a program model that will meet the ongoing needs of the community. The model will be tested by key stakeholders, with the end goal of launching the Peer Support Program in summer 2022.

Appendix A

The following questions were used to guide the individual and group semi-structured interviews:

  1. What is your understanding of what peer support is?
  2. If you could create any style of peer support, what would it look like?
  3. What factors would be important to consider?
  4. What would you want to see in a program or service to make it more comfortable and accessible for you?
  5. What are your thoughts on how we can ensure the peer support program is utilized by as many people as possible?
  6. What qualities do you feel are important for someone providing peer support?
  7. What barriers would prevent you from accessing a peer support program?
  8. We are interested in your ideas on the format of peer support. There are many formats that can be used, including online or in-person, and one-on-one or group. What do you think would be the best format for peer support? Can you think of situations in which you might want a choice of different formats?
  9. Is there anything that we did not cover that you think is important to consider in a peer support program?

Appendix B

Defining the descriptors used in the report to describe the frequency which participants shared a common perspective.

Most: Twenty one or more
Many: Eleven to twenty
Some: Five to ten
Few: Less than five

Appendix C

Demographics of participants

27 respondents

  • English: 93%
  • French: 7%

27 respondents

  • Retired Senior Officers: 4%
  • Senior Officers: 11%
  • Junior Officers: 15%
  • Senior Non-Commissioned Members (NCMs): 15%
  • Junior NCMs: 55%

27 respondents

  • Male: 11%
  • Female: 89%

27 respondents

  • 24-34: 19%
  • 35-49: 37%
  • 50-64: 37%
  • 65+: 7%

Visible Minority
27 respondents

  • Yes: 11%
  • No: 81%
  • Other: 4%
  • Prefer not to say: 4%

Sexual Orientation
27 respondents

  • Left Blank: 11%
  • Gay: 4%
  • Lesbian: 4%
  • Bi-sexual: 7%
  • Queer/Bi-sexual: 7%
  • Heterosexual: 67%

27 respondents

  • Atlantic: 11%
  • Western: 22%
  • ON/QC: 63%
  • Other: 4%

ElementFootnote *
28 respondents

  • Air Force: 11%
  • Navy: 11%
  • Army: 74%
  • Both Air Force and Navy: 4%
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