Part IV – Overarching Framework and Guiding Principles

Overarching Framework

The SSCG firmly believes that:

All survivor support-related initiatives must be grounded in broader efforts to change culture.

The need for transformative institutional and culture change has now been widely cited in numerous reports and recommendations, and must be understood as fundamental to creating effective support for survivors both individually and collectively. A recurring theme in the work of the SSCG was that a Survivor Support Strategy ought to reinforce the link between support for survivors at the individual level and support for survivors through institutional culture change. This is necessary so as to contextualize understanding of the causes and impacts of sexual misconduct in the CAF’s structure and culture.

As summed up by Dr. Erin Whitmore, SME:

“Ensuring support is available to individual CAF members and their families is essential. However, approaching the tasks necessary to create and provide support cannot be limited only to improving individual services. Rather, supporting survivors of sexual [misconduct] requires concrete action aimed at undoing the power dynamics and mechanisms that allow sexual [misconduct] to happen in the first place. This includes developing an analysis and understanding of the gendered and sexualized culture of the CAF… It also requires confronting how misogyny, hypermasculinity, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination are historically built into the very structure and values of the CAF.

…[T]he Survivor Support Strategy and the subsequent work of supporting survivors and their families who have experienced sexual misconduct within the CAF must be rooted in actions that work toward systemic and institutional culture change.

…Supporting survivors means not only creating accessible individual services that ensure survivors have their safety, health, emotional, financial, and spiritual needs met in the aftermath of violence. Supporting survivors also involves the ongoing work of positioning sexual misconduct as the inevitable consequence of colonial, patriarchal, ableist, racist, and heteronormative systems that create the conditions within which violence against those with the least power in these systems has been and continues to be ignored, accepted, and in some cases encouraged within the CAF. As such, the mechanisms of support available to address the individual needs of survivors are only [as] good as the efforts being made to change the system that has created and continues to foster a culture that allows sexual violence to happen in the first place.”Footnote 34

This overarching framework, or structural analysis, must be the foundation from which all other work takes place; it must be built into all individual services and support efforts.

Guiding Principles

Along with the above overarching framework, the SSCG also identified three principles to guide survivor engagement initiatives and development of a Survivor Support Strategy and implementation plan:

  • trauma-informed
  • cultural humility
  • survivor-centred

These three principles are intended to serve as a compass in all work at each of the micro (individual), mezzo (group) and macro (organizational or institutional) levels.

A CAF culture that is firmly grounded in trauma-informed and survivor-centred approaches and cultural humility is our aspiration – one that cannot be achieved by disparate, disconnected, under-resourced, or uncoordinated processes or enhancements in multiple areas of the DND/CAF, nor by “tweaks” to individual programs.

Each principle is described below.


Trauma-informed approaches recognize that each person’s reaction to their experience of sexual misconduct is unique, including how they self-appraise their experience.Footnote 35 Being “trauma- informed” means being aware of, and taking into consideration, the broad range of potential impacts of sexual misconduct, and building support that is responsive to those impacts. This includes adopting decolonizing approaches to trauma, which further recognize the ways in which multiple aspects of a person’s identity can shape and affect the person and their community’s experiences and understanding of trauma and approaches to healing and well-being.

In its broadest sense, trauma-informed approaches and practices are those that:

  • prioritize the survivor’s needs for safety, security, choice, voice, trust, and control
  • adopt an approach that is compassionate, sensitive, non-judgmental, empathetic, patient, consistent, transparent, and reliable
  • ensure that services, and the policies that guide them, are based on an understanding of trauma, trauma responses, and the effects of trauma (e.g. impacts on memory, behaviour, coping, ability to connect to support services)
  • are guided by the principle of doing no harm and preventing against the potential for secondary victimization, or re-traumatization of people, to be perpetuated by individuals, service providers, institutions, and systems through practice, procedures, and policies, including during formal processes such as complaints and investigations
  • recognize the importance of preventing and addressing secondary (vicarious) trauma as an occupational hazard

However, specific analyses of trauma should be developed for 2SLGBTQ+ survivors, Indigenous survivors, and others. For Indigenous survivors, such an analysis must reflect impacts of colonialism, and all aspects of cultural and intergenerational trauma. For 2SLGBTQ+ survivors, it must include ongoing, meaningful institutional acknowledgement of the CAF’s history of structural violence and discrimination against SGMs – a process and acknowledgement that should be guided by, and occur in collaboration with, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community within the CAF.

Relatedly, SSCG discussions highlighted that “sexual misconduct” represents only a limited portion of what can be defined as the “trauma load” of CAF personnel. To ensure a healthy workforce, and as a necessary secondary prevention strategy to eliminate sexual misconduct from the CAF, all aspects of trauma ultimately need to be better understood and addressed:

“There are many categories of trauma to be considered: developmental trauma, shock trauma, relational trauma, community-based traumatic stress, generational/historic trauma, cultural trauma, traumatic embodiment, secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, and ecological grief are all examples. Military sexual misconduct can be identified in many of these subsets.”Footnote 36

Service providers should not expect nor need a disclosure of sexual misconduct to work in a trauma-informed manner. Embedding trauma-informed approaches into all aspects of policy, practices, and processes reduces harm and provides positive support for all personnel. Service providers do not need to know a person’s trauma history to provide trauma-informed support; by using trauma-informed approaches, service providers can offer emotionally safe support, even when a member does not disclose their trauma history.

Becoming trauma-informed is an important part of the desired shift within the CAF – not only at the level of the individual service provider but also at the broader institutional level. In a trauma- informed institution:

  • Affected members have the opportunity to take back control by having their choices and decisions respected (e.g. by being able to seek services and support without triggering a formal investigation before they are ready)
  • A safe environment is created wherein individuals do not experience further harm or trauma in the process of disclosing incidents or receiving services and support (e.g. as may occur when individuals engage in practices that are harmful, or not sensitive to the impacts of trauma and how it manifests)
  • Leadership fosters a positive chain of command climate in which it is consistently possible for those affected by sexual misconduct to report incidents and/or seek services and support without fear of retaliation, reputational harm, retribution, ostracism, and/or negative career impacts

An important caveat was that language matters. It will therefore be necessary to very precisely and clearly define the term “trauma-informed” in its various applications moving forward, and to do so in consultation with diverse groups of stakeholders. For example, there is a need to define how trauma-informed approaches are distinct from “survivor-centred”, “victim-centred”, “trauma aware”, “violence-informed”, “trauma competent”, or “person-centred” approaches.

Cultural humility

Cultural humility relates to social justice and equity, and is very important in relation to sexual misconduct which is fraught with myths and stereotypes. It surpasses “cultural competence” and “unconscious bias” approaches, owing to its emphasis on relationships, self-awareness, and dedication to ensuring that one is not acting on bias. The definition of cultural humility considered by the SSCGFootnote 37 was based on the work of Tervalon & Murray-Garcia (1998), who first developed the concept in relation to disparities and institutional inequities in the field of public health care in the US:

“Cultural humility is a lifelong process of self-reflection, self-critique and commitment to understanding and respecting different points of view, while engaging with others humbly, authentically and from a place of learning.”Footnote 38

In Tervalon & Murray-Garcia’s framework, three factors are understood as guiding us toward cultural humility:

  • a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique
  • a desire to fix power imbalances where none ought to exist
  • development of partnerships with people and groups who advocate for others To this definition, Myrna McCallum, SMEFootnote 39, added:

“Cultural humility is a framework for moving us toward equity. It is an approach that recognizes the role of power and privilege, as well as the imbalances inherent within systems and organizations… Cultural humility asks us that we meet each person where they are, by suspending judgment and resisting the need to impose personal values, beliefs, and notions of wrong or right. In doing so, we reduce the harm of prejudice and oppression and present opportunities of equity.”

Benefits to the DND/CAF of committing to approaches that are rooted in both trauma-informed practice and cultural humility include that such approaches:

  • encourage culture change within an organization
  • promote a culture of safety and empowerment
  • build trust, transparency, and empathy
  • offer opportunities for peer support
  • promote collaborative engagement
  • improve relational skill-buildingFootnote 40


A survivor-centred approach is one that:

  • prioritizes and promotes respect, dignity, diversity, and equality of the affected member
  • treats people with dignity, compassion, and respect
  • applies a needs-based or needs-led approach, one that tailors and makes responses more flexible to meet the member’s specific needs
  • provides holistic and personalized support
  • prioritizes the needs, rights, and involvement of the person
  • applies an inclusive lens [i.e. a gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) approach to support, in recognition that people’s experiences and needs are uniquely shaped by their personal history, identity, context, culture, and community (see Box 3, “GBA+”)].

An important part of a survivor-centred approach is being aware of differences amongst people, social groups, and institutions – for example, recognizing the range of ways in which sexual misconduct impacts different identities, groups, and communities. That entails making services accessible in relation to, example, gender, culture, language, religion, geography, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/or disability, but without presumptively assuming what a person’s needs may be. It includes promoting engagement with the support system by diverse groups, and ensuring that support services are inclusive with respect to meeting diverse needs (e.g. women, men, BIPOC, and 2SLGBTQ+ people).

Box 3 – GBA+

BGA+ is an analytical tool that helps to build diversity and inclusion considerations into policies and programs at every stage of development, implementation, and delivery. It acknowledges that people have multiple identity factors that make them who they are. As applied to sexual misconduct support, GBA+ requires us to: consider how multiple identity factors (e.g. gender, race, Indigenous status, religion, cultural customs and preferences, disability, age, gender identity, and sexual orientation) interact with life experiences to impact experiences of sexual misconduct; be responsive to the specific support needs a person has; and identify and address support gaps, as well as systemic and social barriers for diverse groups.

Survivor-centred practices that demonstrate positive outcomes for survivors not only benefit survivors, but also their families, the DND/CAF as a whole, and Canadians by virtue of having a military that fully supports those who live in service to others and, in turn, has increased wellness and hence operational readiness.

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