It may be complicated trying to find one’s way around all the information available concerning sexual assault. Below are the main messages that the general public should know about sexual assault:
- Sexual assault is a criminal act that can take a variety of forms. The Canadian Criminal Code provides for a number of sexual offences for which criminal charges can be laid. See the Sexual Assault: What is It? section.
- Consent is what makes the difference between sexual contact and sexual assault within the meaning of the law. Consent must be clearly expressed by words or conduct. A person cannot give consent if he or she is incapable of expressing it; if he or she is in a situation where a position of trust, power or authority is being abused; if he or she is in a relationship of dependency; or if he or she is under 16 years of age. See the Sexual Assault: What is It? section.
- Sexual assault is not a rare phenomenon. For instance, in Québec one male out of 10 and almost one female out of 4 reports having been a victim of at least one sexual assault with physical contact before the age of 18, which is equivalent to 16% of the Québec population. This ratio does not include instances of sexual assault committed after the age of 18. See the Statistics section.
- Women and girls are the primary targets of sexual assault, even if many boys are also victimized, particularly prior to adolescence. See the Statistics and Victims sections.
- Sexual assault is almost always committed by individuals known to the victim, as much in the case of children (in most instances, the perpetrators are members of the family or other minors) as in the case of adults (the perpetrators are primarily acquaintances or current or former spouses). See the Statistics and Victims sections.
- Sexual abuse experienced in childhood is seldom disclosed to family and friends during childhood (i.e. in only a third of cases), and only a minority of cases is reported to the authorities. See the Victims/Disclosure section.
- There is no typical profile of a perpetrator of sexual assault. Sexual offending is a complex problem whose causes are multi-factorial. People who commit sexual assault do so for a diversity of reasons. See the Perpetrators section.
- Even if some personal or environmentally related characteristics may make an individual more vulnerable to sexual assault, the victims are not responsible for being targeted and are not to be blamed. Responsibility for sexual assault always lies with the perpetrator. See the Risk Factors section.
- Sexual assault is not a personal problem regarding only one’s private life but rather a social phenomenon. Community and societal factors have been associated with an increased risk of sexual assault. Likewise, sexual assault results in major economic and social costs, thus showing that it is a phenomenon that concerns the population as a whole. See Risk Factors and Prevention sections.
- Sexual assault has numerous potential consequences that can last a lifetime and span generations, with serious adverse effects on health, education, employment, crime, and the economic well-being of individuals, families, communities and societies. See the Consequences section.
- The positive support provided to sexual abuse victims by parents, family and friends is believed to be the most important factor in helping them adjust following the abuse and in reducing the risk of their developing sequelae, or after-effects, more particularly so in the case of victims who are minors. Support includes, in particular, believing the victim following disclosure. See the Consequences and Helping a victim sections.
- There are support resources throughout Québec for the victims of sexual assault and the people who are likely to commit such offences. These resources must be publicized, since a sizeable proportion of Canadians report having little or no knowledge at all of the services available to victims of crime. See the Resources section.
Last update: October 2016