Defining Sexual Assault

“Sexual assault” is ANY form of sexual contact with another person, without her/his voluntary consent (e.g., forced kissing, fondling, oral sex, and/or vaginal or anal intercourse).

Sexual assault is not a loss of control over sexual urges – it is an act of power and control. Many people mistakenly think that: rape (forced sexual intercourse) is the only type of sexual assault; a violent attack is always part of a sexual assault; and/or, that injuries result from every sexual assault incident. In some cases, however, no physical violence is used, and no physical injuries occur; instead, someone may be threatened, or pressured into doing something s/he doesn’t want to do. Sexual assault in any form, however, is against the law.


In this context, “consent” is a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Any consent that is obtained as a result of manipulation, threats, coercion, or intimidation is not considered voluntary. Each person has the right to set her/his own sexual limits, and may refuse to participate in ANY type of sexual activity, at ANY time, for ANY reason.

A child cannot consent to any sexual activity with an adult. Furthermore, consent has NOT been given if:

  • someone other than the participant gives consent (through words or conduct);
  • the participant is incapable of giving consent (e.g., is unconscious, impaired by alcohol or drugs, sleeping, heavily medicated, or has a disability);
  • the person who committed the assault is (or was) abusing a position of power, trust, or authority (e.g., parent, babysitter, teacher, coach, police officer, doctor);
  • the participant says “NO”, or implies through her/his words or body language, that s/he does not want to engage in sexual activity;
  • after previously consenting to engage in sexual activity, the participant changes her/his mind at any point prior to, or during, the sexual activity.

Criminal Code of Canada (2008)
Ontario Women’s Directorate (2007)

Canadian Sexual Assault Statistics

  • 1 in 4 Canadian women will be sexually assaulted – half of these assaults will be against females under the age of 16. (Ontario Women’s Directorate, 1995)
  • Every minute of every day, a Canadian woman or child is sexually assaulted. (Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, 1998)
  • According to the “Uniform Crime Reporting Survey”, in 2002, 85% of sexual assaults were against females, while 97% of those accused of sexual offences were male. (Statistics Canada, 2003)
  • 29% of children, 12% of youth, and 8% of adult survivors of sexual assault are male. (Statistics Canada, 2003)
  • Approximately 80% of sexual assaults against women are committed by people known to the women – dates, boyfriends, marital partners, friends, family members, neighbours, and co-workers. (Statistics Canada, 2003)
  • Less than 10% of Canadian women who are sexually assaulted report this to police. (Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women, 2002)
  • In 2006, there were 24,925 sexual assaults reported to police in Canada. (Statistics Canada, 2007)
  • It is estimated that only 1% of date rapes are reported to police. (Ontario Women’s Directorate, 1995)
  • In 2002, 61% of sexual assaults reported to police involved children and youth under the age of 18. (Statistics Canada, 2003)
  • 54% of girls under the age of 16 have experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention. 24% have experienced rape or coercive sex, and 17% have experienced incest. (Holmes, J. and Silverman, E.L., 1992; Russell, et. al., 1996; METRAC, 2007)
  • Girls are two to three times more likely to experience sexual abuse than boys. (Johnston, E. and Saenz, R., 1997)
  • The rate of sexual abuse of girls with disabilities is four times that of the national average. (Razack, S., 1994; METRAC, 2007)
  • Up to 75% of the victims of sexual assaults in Aboriginal communities are female and under 18 years-of-age; 50% of those are under age 14, and almost 25% are younger than 7 years-of-age. (McIvor, S.D. and Nahanee, T., 1998; METRAC, 2007)
  • 60% of Canadian college-aged males reported that they would commit sexual assault if they were certain that they wouldn’t be caught. (Lenskyj, H., 1992; Ontario Women’s Directorate, 1995)

Sexual Assault Myths and Facts

MYTH: “Women often lie about being sexually assaulted.”
FACT: Sexual assault is actually a vastly under-reported crime. False accusations of sexual assault happen no more often than false reports of other types of crime (i.e., in about 2% to 4% of reported incidents). (Education Wife Assault, 2007)

MYTH: “The best way for a woman to protect herself from sexual assault is to avoid being alone at night in dark, deserted places, such as alleys or parking lots.”
FACT: The majority of sexual assaults occur in private homes, and the largest percentage of these occur in the victim’s home. The idea that most sexual assaults fit the “stranger-in-the-dark-alley” stereotype can lead to a false sense of security for women when they are in other settings. (Statistics Canada, 2003)

MYTH: “Women who are sexually assaulted ‘ask for it’ by the way they dress or act.”
FACT: This glaring misconception is often used by offenders to rationalize their behaviours (and, instead, puts the blame on the victims). In fact, women report wearing a wide range of clothing, and being involved in many different types of activities, when they were sexually assaulted. Furthermore, women of any age and physical type can be sexually assaulted. These women are NOT at fault – women do NOT “ask for”, or “deserve”, this sort of abuse. (Education Wife Assault, 2007) 

MYTH: “Men who sexually assault women are either mentally ill or sexually starved.”
FACT: Most of these men are neither. Studies indicate that most rapists are “ordinary”, “normal” men who sexually assault women in order to assert power and control over them. (Lenskyj, H., 1992)

MYTH: “Men from certain racial groups are more likely to commit sexual assault.”
FACT: Perpetrators come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age, and social group. These men can be the doctors, teachers, employers, co-workers, lawyers, husbands, or relatives of the women they assault. (Education Wife Assault, 2007)

MYTH: “Women cannot be sexually assaulted by their husbands or boyfriends.”
FACT: Legally, women have the right to say “NO” to any form of sexual contact, even in a marital or dating relationship. Although sexual assault within marital relationships has been illegal in Canada since 1983, few women report such incidents to police. (Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, 1993)

Checklist for Assisting a Sexual Assault Survivor

  1. Believe her/him.
  2. Assist the survivor in seeking appropriate medical attention (e.g., treatment for internal and external injuries and shock; testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections or STIs; testing for date-rape drugs; pregnancy-prevention measures; collection and documentation of physical evidence for a “sexual assault evidence kit”), if necessary.
  3. Contact Muskoka/Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services (Parry Sound office: 705-774-9083 or 1-877-851-6662) OR the Women’s Sexual Assault Help Line (1-800-461-2929) so that a staff member or trained volunteer can offer support, accompaniment, and/or referral.
  4. Listen to the survivor, and provide her/him with comfort and understanding.
  5. Treat the survivor with respect.
  6. Encourage the survivor to “reach out” to others (e.g., friends, family members, counsellors) on an ongoing basis.
  7. Support the survivor’s right to make her/his own decisions, whenever possible.
  8. Understand that the survivor is NOT responsible for the sexual assault – the offender is.
  9. Whenever possible, ask a female professional (e.g., health-care worker, police officer, counsellor) to work directly with a female sexual assault survivor.
  10. Challenge your personal beliefs about sexual assault issues on a regular basis.

Copyright: Muskoka/Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services (2008)