Understanding sexual violence

Learn more about sexual violence.

Reflect on your attitudes and behaviours.

Sexual violence is about power and control, not sexual desire. It is an act of aggression against another person. It is never the survivor’s fault. It is never okay.

Ontario’s Sexual Violence & Harassment Action Plan

Our understanding of sexual violence has changed over the years. There was a time when we believed it meant rape by a stranger. We now recognize that there are many forms of sexual violence, including sexual assault and sexual harassment. Sexual violence goes far beyond the impact on survivors and their families. Sexual violence costs Canadians billions of dollars every year.[Canadian Women’s Foundation: Fact Sheet: Sexual Assault and Harassment]

Sexual violence is an act of aggression against another person.

Sexual assault describes any event of unwanted sexual touching and/or physical force.  It is the legal term for rape in Canada. Sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining.

Sexual harassment includes sexual comments, behaviour, as well as touching. It may take the form of jokes, threats, comments about sex, or discriminatory remarks about someone’s gender.  A 2014 poll in Canada showed that 43% of women have been sexually harassed in their workplace. Women were also more than twice as likely as men to say they had experienced unwanted sexual contact while at work (20% compared to 9%).[See Canadian Women’s Foundation]

Sexual violence happens every time there is no consent between the individuals involved. When a sexual relationship involves someone who has authority over another person, such as between a youth and a caregiver or person in a position of trust, there cannot be consent.

In 97% of sexual assaults, the accused perpetrator is male.

Female offenders may account for up to 13% of the abuse of females and 24% of the abuse of males, either acting alone or with a partner.[Correctional Services Canada] 

Less than 10% of sexual assaults are reported to police.

Stats Canada

Statistics Canada tells us that:[See Stats Canada]

  • 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
  • 60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17
  • Over 80% of sex crime victims are female
  • 97% of reported assaults involve a male perpetrator
  • 15% of sexual assault victims are boys under 16
  • 83% of girls with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
  • 57% of Indigenous girls and women have been sexually abused
  • 49% of trans students have been sexually harassed in school (Ontario)[Egale Human Rights Trust. Every Class in Every School]

Most (80%) sexual violence is committed by someone who knows the victim. It can happen when you are dating, hooking up, or married. It happens in both opposite and same-sex relationships. And it happens in many settings - online, in a public setting and in private.  Sexual violence takes many forms, it’s not just rape.

Which of the statements below count as sexual assault or sexual harassment?

  • Continuing to flirt after the other person has said they’re not interested
  • Trying to get your partner in the mood when they’ve said they are tired
  • Showing your friends the naked pic some guy sent you
  • Not stopping when your partner changes their mind
  • Forcing someone to give you oral sex
  • Getting someone drunk to take advantage of them
  • Having sex with someone who is drunk and passed out
  • Slapping someone’s butt
  • Stalking a person – electronically or in person
  • Sharing a naked picture of your ex to get even
  • Your boss insists you wear a short skirt
  • Saying ‘you look hot’ to someone walking down the street

Answer:  Sexual assault and sexual harassment happens on a spectrum. All of the statements speak to unwanted actions that cause harm and should be considered different forms of sexual assault and/or sexual harassment.

See also: Fact Sheet on sexual assault and sexual harassment – Canadian Women’s Foundation

Consent is when people over the age of 16 freely agree to whatever sexual activity is happening.

Further Reading & Resources