Defining the Terms

Understanding the language and laws around sexual violence can help you stay informed and up-to-date.

What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence is an all-encompassing term used to describe a broad range of behaviors and acts. Sexual violence means any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent. It includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation. Sexual violence is not about passion, desire or sex. It is about one person exerting power and control over another.

What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is any unwanted touching or physical contact of a sexual nature imposed by one person upon another. This includes coerced or physically forced touching or sexual act.

What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct (based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression) that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. Examples include:

  • Sexual solicitation or unwanted sexual attention;
  • An implied or expressed promise of reward for complying with a sexually oriented request;
  • An implied or expressed threat of reprisal or actual reprisal for refusing to comply with a sexually oriented request.

Who is at Risk of being Sexually Assaulted?
Unfortunately, the answer is everyone. However, we know that sexual assault is a gendered crime where 81% of victims are women and 99% of perpetrators are men. Women from all walks of life can be sexually assaulted. They can be of every racial and ethnic background. They can be rich or poor. They can be educated or uneducated, disabled bodied or able bodied. We do know that the following communities are at higher risk to experience sexual violence:

  • LGBTTQQI communities;
  • First Nations, Inuit and Métis;
  • Women living with disabilities;
  • Women of colour
  • Young women between the ages of 15-24 years of age; and,
  • Women going to university or college.

LGBTTQQI communities:
People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual, intersex, queer and questioning are more likely to experience assault as part of a hate crime and are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted those who identify as being heterosexual.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis
Rates of violence committed against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women are staggeringly high as 57% have experienced some form of sexual violence.

Women living with disabilities
Women living with a disability are two times more likely to experience sexual violence that those living without limitations.

Women of colour
Racism and sexism, along with the intersection of traditional cultural stereotypes makes women of colour more vulnerable to sexual assault. Further, many of our resources and supports are created by, and structured to accommodate, White women; thus, putting up barriers to discourage women of colour from accessing resources and support from mainstream agencies. It does not help that many of our statistics are broken down by age and gender and appear to ignore race, ethnicity and culture. Unfortunately, that means that we have little knowledge as to the prevalence of sexual violence in different cultural communities and by different ethnic or racial backgrounds.

Women going to university or college
15-25% of women attending university or college will experience some form of sexual violence throughout their academic career.

Is there a difference between sexual assault and rape?

Rape is unwanted sexual intercourse. Under the law, sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature, including rape and any other unwanted fondling or touching.

Where does sexual assault happen?
Most people believe that sexual assault happens in “dangerous” places such as dark alleys or parking lots. The reality is that more than half of all sexual assaults take place in private homes.

Why does it happen?
Sexual violence is about power and control. It is not about intimacy, desirability or attraction. Unfortunately, our cultural belief systems and traditional attitudes around sexual violence lead us to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator. The myths constructed around sexual violence also reinforce victim blaming and keep women (and men) from disclosing or reporting their sexual assault experiences.

We also live in a culture where it appears to be socially acceptable to get women drunk because it may make them easier, where sexually explicit and violent material is readily available, and the sexualization of young women is part of the cultural and societal norm. It is, therefore, unsurprising that women often feel that they are to blame for their sexual assault. Under the law, however, women have the right to say no to any form of sex or sexual touching, even with a boyfriend, in a marriage or under the influence of alcohol.

No means no – whatever the situation.

Who is responsible for sexual assault?
People who commit sexual assaults are responsible for these crimes, not their victims. What a woman wears, where she goes, what she drinks or how much, or who she talks to does not mean she is inviting sexual assault or giving up her right to say no. These myths blame the victim for the crime, not the offender.

If a woman is sexually assaulted it is not her fault.

What can I do?
Recognize that our society has a responsibility to stop all forms of sexual assault. Sexual assault is a crime.

An important first step is to learn more about sexual assault and why it happens. Many of the things we have heard about sexual assault may not be true. We need to think about our attitudes and challenge the myths we have around sexual violence. We must place responsibility for the crimes on the offenders and stop blaming the victims.

Talk to others about sexual assault. You can help men and women learn that women have the right to say no — and that no means no — whatever the situation. No one has the right to pressure or force any unwanted act of sexual nature on another person.

You may know someone who has been sexually assaulted.

Listen to them.

Let them know that it was not their fault and that he or she is not alone.

Find out what help is available in our community [click here] and share this information to the victim when she or he is ready.

Help by locating information about sexual assault and its implications.

What is Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault?

Drug-facilitated sexual assault defines a situation when the victim is subjected to sexual acts while incapacitated or unconscious, and thus unable to resist or provide consent due to the effects of drugs or alcohol. [click here]