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What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is 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, and includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.

Facts about sexual violence

  • One in three women experience sexual violence, particularly intimate partner violence, in their lifetime. (World Health Organization, 2017)
  • Men are more likely to perpetrate violence when they possess unequal gender norms including attitudes of accepting violence, and a sense of entitlement over women. (World Health Organization, 2017)
  • Women are victimized at higher rate than men. (Department of Justice, 2017)
  • Young women and girls under the age of 25 have the highest rates of police reported sexual assault. (Statistics Canada, 2017)
  • The number of police-reported sexual assaults increased by 13 per cent following the #MeToo movement. (Statistics Canada, 2017)
  • Only approximately five per cent of sexual assaults are reported to the police. (Department of Justice, 2017)

Myths and misconceptions

MYTH: Perpetrators of sexual assault and rape are often unknown to the survivor.

  • Survivors are more likely to be victimized by someone known to them than by a stranger. (King, 2019)

MYTH: Women provoke sexual assault by their behaviour or manner of dress.

  • Consent is only granted when there is an understandable exchange of affirmative words which indicate a willingness to participate in the mutually agreed upon sexual activity. Manner of dress or behaviour are not an indication of consent.

MYTH: It wasn’t rape, so it wasn’t sexual violence.

  • Any unwanted sexual contact including: sexual harassment, stalking and voyeurism (which involve no physical contact) are all forms of sexual violence. (Ontario.ca, 2019)

MYTH: They didn’t say "no" or struggle.

  • When someone is being sexually assaulted they may become paralyzed with fear making them unable to fight back. Additionally, the survivor may fear that struggling will provoke their perpetrator to become more violent. (Ontario.ca, 2019)

MYTH: Many people lie about sexual assault.

  • The number of falsely reported sexual assaults is both low, and consistent with the number of other crimes falsely reported in Canada. (Ontario.ca, 2019)

MYTH: If it really happened, the survivor should be able to recall the assault easily and in order of events.

  • The effects of trauma on a survivor of sexual assault can result in impaired memory which means a survivor may not be able to easily recall details of the incident. (Ontario.ca, 2019)

Definitions

Coercion

  • In the context of sexual violence, coercion is unreasonable and persistent pressure for sexual activity. Coercion is the use of emotional manipulation, blackmail, threats to family or friends, or the promise of rewards or special treatment, to persuade someone to do something they do not wish to do, such as being sexual or performing particular sexual acts.

Rape culture

  • A concept that frames sexual assault as acceptable, usually due to attitudes about sexuality and gender. This includes victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivialization of rape, denial of rape statistics and refusing to acknowledge the harm in sexual assault. Very prevalent in mass media such as television, movies, music and art. It also targets a person’s socioeconomic class, culture, race, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and strongly impacts their experience and ability to access resources.

Sexual assault

  • A criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. Sexual assault is any type of unwanted sexual act done by one person to another that violates the sexual integrity of the victim and involves a range of behaviours from any unwanted touching to penetration. Sexual assault is characterized by a broad range of behaviours that involve the use of force, threats, or control towards a person, which makes that person feel uncomfortable, distressed, frightened, threatened, or that is carried out in circumstances in which the person has not freely agreed, consented to, or is incapable of consenting to.

Sexual harassment

  • Sexual harassment is one, or a series of, comment(s) or conduct that is gender-related or of a sexual nature that is known or might reasonably be known to be unwelcome/unwanted, offensive, intimidating, hostile or inappropriate. In order to constitute sexual harassment, the conduct complained of must detrimentally affect the complainant’s work/study environment by creating a hostile atmosphere in which the victim is made to feel inferior, inadequate, or offended. Examples include gestures; remarks; jokes; slurs; taunting; innuendo; threats; physical; verbal or sexual assault; unwanted physical contact; invitations; leering; the display of sexually offensive material; solicitation; demands; penalties related to sexual orientation, marital, or family status; unwanted attention; implied or express promise of reward or benefit in return for sexual favours; implied or express threat or act of reprisal if sexual favours are not given; and sexual assault; making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the advance is in a position to confer, grant, or deny a benefit or advancement to a worker or student and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.

Sexual violence

  • 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, and includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.