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Sexual Abuse

What is it?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. It includes a range of behaviours that involves touching or rubbing a part of another’s body in a sexual way, without consent.

All sexual contact with anyone without consent is a crime called sexual assault. Sexual assault includes sexual touching or forcing sexual activity on a spouse, a common law partner or a dating partner. Even within marriage, one spouse cannot force the other to have sexual contact.

Sexual violence can also include being forced to participate in non-contact sexual activities such as watching pornography, or being sexually harassed, or experiencing sexual threats 2

What does it look like?

  • Sexual activity if the person does not or cannot say yes (e.g. very intoxicated or unconscious, mentally challenged)
  • Continuing contact when asked to stop or if the person initially agreed but changes their mind to continued acts
  • The person initiating the act is in a position of power or authority (e.g. a coach, teacher)
  • The person agrees under duress (e.g. due to fear, intimidation, trying to avoid further conflict, presence or threat of a weapon)
  • Forcing someone to do unsafe or humiliating acts

What is the impact?

It is important to understand that each person reacts uniquely to sexual violence, and there is no right or wrong way to cope or feel after the experience. Each person is different and there are many factors that can influence feelings and reactions after the event(s). Some of the factors may be:3

  • the victim/survivor's relationship to the perpetrator
  • extent and severity of any accompanying emotional or physical abuse
  • severity of the abuse
  • extent of physical harm
  • length of time over which the abuse occurred
  • responses of family and friends of the victim/survivor
  • the person's experience of the first responders such as hospital, nurse, doctor or police as well as the subsequent system of courts and counselling
  • the personal history of the victim/survivor

Experiences of trauma can look and feel many different ways. All feelings are normal.

Some common responses after experiencing the trauma of sexual violence are:

  • Diminished self-esteem with frequent feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, anger, and powerlessness
  • Negative self/body image
  • Physical symptoms of stress – such as headaches, stomach upsets, eating and sleeping problems, lethargy
  • Increased anxieties or tendency towards depression or depressive behaviour
  • Feelings of anger, fear, rage
  • Increased isolation from others or difficulty trusting others
  • Hyper-alert and always aware of one’s external surroundings
  • Increased usage of alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with feelings and memories
  • Self-harm as way to numb or cope with feelings
  • Difficulty with interpersonal relationships
  • No or little desire for sexual intimacy OR increase in risky sexual behaviors
  • Flashbacks of the incident(s) and fear of being alone
  • Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty with employment or school due to the inability to concentrate

These responses and coping methods can change over time.

It is extremely important to understand that there is no particular pattern of response and some people respond immediately while other have delayed reactions. Some are affected by the assault for a long time whereas others appear to recover rather quickly.

We all respond differently to traumatic events.

Sexual Violence and the Criminal Code of Canada

Within the Criminal Code of Canada, laws have been written in order to protect people from being hurt. In instances of sexual assault the Criminal Code has defined 3 levels of sexual assault:

  • Level 1 Sexual Assault: This is when someone is touched in a sexual way without their consent. Forced mouth on mouth contact, forced penetration and forced hand to genital contact are all considered sexual assault.
  • Level 2 Sexual Assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm: This is when a person is sexually assaulted by someone who uses a weapon (or pretends to have one), if the offender threatens to harm another person if he or she does not participate in a sexual act, or if more than one person sexually assaults him or her.
  • Level 3 Aggravated Sexual Assault: This is when a person is wounded, disfigured, beaten or in danger of losing his or her life while being sexually assaulted.

Laws have been written into the Criminal Code about at what age individuals can legally consent to sexual activity with someone else. These laws are not meant to stop youth from engaging in sexual activity, but to protect them from being taken advantage of or exploited by someone who is older and has more power.

  • Children under 12 years old cannot give legal consent to sexual acts.
  • Youth who are 12 and 13 years of age can give legal consent if there is no more than a 2 year age difference between the youth and consent is not legal if one of those involved is in a position of trust or authority, or if a relationship of dependency exists.
  • Youth who are 14 and 15 years of age can give legal consent to engage in sexual activity that is mutual with the person of involvement is less than 5 years older.
  • The legal age of consent to sexual activity is 16, as long as the person is not in a position of trust or authority or a relationship of dependency exists.

Other Sexual Violence Laws:

  • Incest is illegal at any age
  • Our laws recognize that if person did not actively resist or fight back, it does not mean that they consented. The freeze response when in danger is very common in sexual assaults.
  • Consent is not legal if a person is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.