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How Do I Know if I Have Been Sexually Assaulted?

Sexual assault can be experienced by any gender, and in many scenarios. Here we define the various forms of sexual assault.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is any non-consensual sexual activity, such as unwanted sexual grabbing, kissing, fondling as well as rape.

Sexual assault can be experienced by any gender, within domestic partnerships, friendships, or with strangers. A common misconception is that sex workers can’t be assaulted, but assault can happen to anyone, such as a sex trade worker by a client. Some examples of what sexual assault looks like include rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, degrading sexual imagery, cyber harassment, trafficking or sexual exploitation.

Here are some examples of what real life sexual assault can look like:

“My husband wants to have sex when he comes home drunk, I tell him I’m not in the mood but he pressures me anyway. He doesn’t remember what he’s done in the morning so I don’t make a big deal out of it.”

“When I was underage my babysitter asked if I wanted to practice kissing.” 

“I was working as an escort and one of my clients forced himself onto me. Even though I said no he said he thought I was just playing along to the role play.”

“I play for a college basketball team, when the coach is alone with me he grabs me in places that make me uncomfortable. He always waits until I am alone.”

How Are These Experiences Defined in Canada?

Below are some definitions that can help identify how these experiences are characterized by Canada and the criminal code. This definition may vary in other countries like the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia. Please connect with local support if you are outside of Canada. 

Rape: Any non-consensual penetration of the vagina or anus with any object or body part. Rape also includes penetration of the mouth with someones sexual organ without consent. 

Sexual Exploitation: When a person in a position of trust or authority uses that power to start or attempt sexual activity with another person. It can be direct or indirect and may include touching, violence, coercion or the use of threats. 

Voyeurism: The secret observation by any means or recording of any person for a sexual purpose, in circumstances where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Cyber Harassment: The use of communication technologies such as the internet, social networking sites, websites, email and text messaging to repeatedly intimidate or harass others. This can include insulting or threatening emails, posts, spreading embarrassing or private photos online, and blackmailing an individual with private information.

Sexual Harassment: Defined by engaging in a course of unwelcome actions or words that are annoying, distressing or agitating to the person experiencing them. More than one event must take place for there to be a violation, however, depending on the circumstances, one incident could be significant or substantial enough to be sexual harassment.

The most common understanding of sexual harassment is conduct such as making passes, soliciting sexual favours, sexual touching, etc. However, the definition of sexual harassment also includes conduct that attack a person’s sexuality or conduct that is directed at a person because of their sex.

Generally, human rights law clearly recognizes that sexual harassment is often not about sexual desire or interest at all. In fact, it often involves hostility, rejection, and/or bullying of a sexual nature. Here are some examples of what sexual harassment can look like:

“At work, people comment on my sexual orientation and ask me inappropriate questions about what sex is like for me.” 

“A friend of mine went through my phone and sent himself explicit photos of myself without my knowledge or consent.”

What About Consent?

Consent is actively and verbally expressing that you are into a sexual activity with someone. You cannot give consent while you are sleeping, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consent can be withdrawn at any time and you do not need to explain why. 

“Consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific”. 

The law requires that a person take reasonable steps to find out if the other person is consenting. If you didn’t say yes, it’s not consent. 

What About Minors?

Generally, the legal age of consent in Canada is 16, however there are varying ages of minority within each province. If you or someone you know is under 18 and experienced any form of sexual violence, it’s important to consult local support for help with your specific case. 

The information below is a very brief guide to sexual violence as it pertains to individuals who are under age. Experiences involving minors may require additional support. This guide is meant for information only and does not replace legal advice. 

Things to Know if You Are Under 18

In some situations, sexual activity with someone under the age of 18 is illegal. A person under 18 cannot consent to sexual activity if the other person has a relationship of trust or authority over them, or they are dependent on that person. Examples of people in positions of power can include teachers, a coach, babysitter, family member, religious leaders or doctors. 

Things to Know if You Are Under 16 in Ontario

There are two exceptions to individuals under 16 who engage in sexual activity with someone close in age. 

A young person 14 or 15 years of age can consent to sexual activity with someone less than 5 years older

A young person 12 or 13 years of age can consent to sexual activity with someone less than 2 years older.

These exceptions only apply if the older person is not in a position of authority or trust and there is no exploitation.

What if You Are Under 12?

Children under the age of 12 can never legally consent to sexual activity.

Sexual Offenses Specific to Minors

There are specific offenses that only apply to minors. Remember that the definition of minors may vary according to province. The experience of  the offenses below is considered sexual violence under the Criminal Code of Canada. 

Invitation to sexual touching is inviting a child under the age of 16 to touch directly or indirectly, the body of any other person.

Sexual interference is touching a child under the age of 16, whether directly or indirectly, for a sexual purpose.

Providing sexually explicit material to a child is “grooming” a child using pornography in order to commit a sexual offense.

What is Grooming

Grooming is the start of the sexual abuse process that involves building trust with a child, and the adults around them, in an effort to gain access to and control the child. This is a power play used to reduce the likelihood of  the child disclosing details and increasing the likelihood the child will repeatedly return to the offender. Offenders groom adults around the child to make it easier to gain access to the child. 

Luring a child is communicating with a young person using a computer in order to arrange or commit certain sexual offenses. Depending on the offense, the age of consent ranges from 16 to 18 years.

If you have experienced a sexual assault, please read through our Sexual Violence Survivor’s Handbook.


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