Prevention strategies are developed to reduce the risk factors associated with sexual assault. To learn which community and societal factors can contribute to sexual assault, see the Risk factors section.
- Sexual assault is a public health problem that is not solely the result of individual behaviour. It also stems from a society’s norms and values regarding sexual behaviour.1
- Community and societal prevention strategies help to bring about change in society by modifying the norms, attitudes and beliefs that support sexual assault.2
- Countries and communities differ considerably in how they react to the problem of sexual assault. The community and societal prevention strategies they adopt may include one or more of the following:3
- adopting legislation and putting judicial procedures in place;
- offering training to the actors called upon to address sexual assault (police, investigators, prosecutors, teachers and social workers); and
- allocating resources to medico-legal and support services for sexual assault victims and perpetrators.
Such initiatives reflect a society’s desire to prevent sexual assault and create a climate of non-tolerance towards this form of violence within society as a whole.
- In Québec and Canada, the desire to prevent sexual assault has led to a range of actions and commitments on the part of governments and communities in recent years. These actions, which have initiated change, are an important part of our history.
- The Québec government’s most recent actions have demonstrated its desire to provide a concerted response to sexual assault and implement strategies to raise public awareness, improve the status of women and bolster institutional support.
Actions to date
Community groups have played a dynamic role in defending women’s rights and deploying the first resources for female victims of violence. In the process, they have sparked reflection on the social character of sexual assault and the government’s role in this area.4 This has led to a series of actions and commitments on the part of the Canadian and Québec governments to counter sexual assault, and these initiatives in turn have led to changes in legislation. As a whole, these actions reflect the history of important developments in the fight against sexual assault.
Actions by the Québec government
Several provincial initiatives in the area of sexual assault have brought about change and are thus an important part of our history. They include:
History of actions by the Québec government
1980-85 Introduction of the first medico-legal kits to assist multidisciplinary sexual assault responders in emergency situations.5 1989 Preparation of the first intervention protocol at the Ministère des Affaires sociales [ministry of social affairs] for taking concerted action in the event of alleged sexual abuse in health and social services network institutions, in order to protect sexually abused children.6 In 1992, the Ministère des Affaires sociales and the Ministère de l’Éducation [ministry of education] signed a second agreement7 on a protocol for education network institutions.8 In 2001, both of these agreements were incorporated into the Multi-sectoral Agreement concerning children who are victims of sexual abuse or physical ill-treatment, or whose physical health is threatened by the lack of appropriate care.9 Protection was thus extended to all children. 1991 Publication of the report Un Québec fou de ses enfants [a Québec that is mad for its children],10 which discussed the prevention of child sexual abuse on the basis of a recommendation by the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux [ministry of health and social services] to step up the implementation and evaluation of sexual abuse prevention programs (recommendation 6, p. 118). 1993 First Canadian study by Statistics Canada on violence toward women that documented in particular the scope of sexual violence in the lives of Canadians.11 1995 Publication of the report Les agressions sexuelles STOP [STOP sexual assault],12 which documented sexual assault from the angle of both victims and perpetrators in Québec and made several recommendations for Québec, including the adoption of clear guidelines for dealing with sexual assault. The report was prepared by a cross-sectoral working group in the wake of a mandate from the Québec government. 1998 Preparation of the first Canadian study on the incidence of child abuse and neglect13. It was updated in 200314 and 200815. 2001 Adoption and signing of the Orientations gouvernementales en matière d'agression sexuelle [the Québec government’s guiding principles on sexual assault] and the 2001-2006 action plan,4 as well as the Multi-sectoral Agreement concerning children who are victims of sexual abuse or physical ill-treatment, or whose physical health is threatened by the lack of appropriate care.9 This agreement extended concerted cross-sectoral action to all child abuse situations. Previously, such action had focused exclusively on children in institutions. 2001 Initiation of communication activities for young people by the Québec government as part of a major awareness campaign, “Parler, c’est grandir” [to talk is to grow] This campaign, which lasted for three years, was aimed at preventing a range of problems, including sexual assault.16 2001 Gradual deployment of designated centres offering 24/7 emergency medical services for sexual assault victims in all regions of Québec.16 2004 Publication of the first statistical report on sexual assault offences in Québec from 1997 to 2001 by the Ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec [ministry of public security].17 A second report entitled Les agressions sexuelles au Québec : Statistiques 2002 [sexual assaults in Québec: 2002 statistics]18 was also published in 2004.16 This report was the first in a series of annual reports on sexual assault reported to the police in Québec’s various regions. 2007 Publication of the first report on the implementation of the government’s commitments for the period 2001-2006.16 2008 Launching of the 2008-2013 Government Action Plan Concerning Sexual Assault, the government’s second action plan in this area.19 2010 Launching of a free information and referral helpline for sexual assault victims and their loved ones, in operation 24/7 throughout Québec.
The creation of the first assistance agencies for victims and perpetrators of sexual assault, as well as other events initiated by groups and communities, reflected a desire to prevent sexual assault and better address the needs of victims of violence. These actions also helped to raise public awareness about these issues.
History of community actions
1973 Opening of the first assistance centres for rape victims in Canada (Toronto and Vancouver).20 1975 Opening of the first assistance centre for rape victims in Montréal, which offered a range of services to help women who had been sexually assaulted. Today, there are about 30 assistance centres for sexual assault victims in Québec.21,22 1978 Organization of the first “Take Back the Night” march in Vancouver. In 1985, this event became part of the Day of Action on Violence Against Women.20 1979 Creation of a coalition of assistance centres for victims of sexual assault, the Regroupement québécois des Centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (RQCALACS).21 1985-1988 Implementation in Québec of the American Child Assault Prevention Program aimed at preventing violence against children, including sexual abuse. Known in Québec as the ESPACE program, it led to the creation of the Regroupement des organismes ESPACE du Québec [Québec coalition of ESPACE organizations].23 1995 Foundation of a coalition of sexual assault responders, the Regroupement des intervenants en matière d'agression sexuelle (RIMAS), entrusted with managing perpetrators of sexual assault.24 1997 Creation in Montréal of the Centre de ressources et d’intervention pour hommes abusés sexuellement dans leur enfance(CRIPHASE) to provide assistance for male victims of child sexual abuse.25 2001 Deployment of cross-sectoral issue tables on sexual assault in most regions of Québec.16 2005 Creation of the Centre d’expertise Marie-Vincent in Montréal to offer specialized, integrated services adapted to the needs of sexually abused children under the age of 12 and their families.26
Changes in legislation
Legislation and criminal justice systems must not only prevent sexual assault, but facilitate the recovery of victims and ensure access to justice.2In recent decades, the legislative framework for sexual assault has evolved rapidly in Canadian and Québec societies. The following overview of the most significant developments reveals the progress made over the past 40 years.
History of sexual assault legislation
1972 Adoption of the Crime Victims Compensation Act, which recognized that sexual assault victims, among others, are entitled to compensation.22 1977 Adoption of the Youth Protection Act (YPA) by the Québec National Assembly. The YPA, which came into force on January 15, 1979,27 identifies sexual abuse as one of the grounds for considering that the security or development of a child is in danger within the meaning of this statute (subparagraph d of the second paragraph of section 38). Under the YPA, any person who learns that a child may be a victim of sexual abuse is required to report the situation to the Directeur de la protection de la jeunesse. 1982 Amendment of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms through the addition of a new section (s. 10.1) prohibiting harassment on the basis of sex (1982, c. 61, s. 4.).28 1983 Amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code,which made the offences of rape and indecent assault sexual assault offences that would henceforth be judged on the basis of their violent and sexual nature.22 In addition, the new legislation recognized sexual assault between spouses and specified that both women and men could be victims of this type of assault. 1985 Inclusion of sexual harassment at work in the Canada Labour Code, which henceforth stipulated that every employee is entitled to employment free of sexual harassment.29 1992 Introduction of new rules in the Canadian Criminal Code,30 which made reference to a complainant’s prior sexual activity inadmissible as evidence (s. 276). In addition, the concept of consent31 to sexual activity was clarified to ensure more equitable treatment of victims.22 1993 IIntroduction of new provisions in the Canadian Criminal Code (s. 163.1) prohibiting child pornography. These provisions made it an offence to make, print, publish, import, export, distribute or sell child pornography or possess it for the purpose of publication, sale or distribution. Simple possession of child pornography was also prohibited.32 1997 Adoption of the Act respecting childcare centres and childcare services and its regulations, which required that educational childcare services ensure that employees who work with young children undergo security screening by the police. Previously, screening policies and procedures were widely applied, but they did not have force of law.33 1999 The Supreme Court of Canada decided that consent to engage in a sexual activity had to be voluntary and communicated, thus precluding the existence of implicit consent to sexual assault.34 2002 Addition of new sexual offences in the Criminal Code to counter sexual exploitation of children over the Internet: child pornography (s. 163.1), which now consists in knowingly visiting child pornography sites, distributing child pornography over the Internet (including operating sites with links to child pornography sites) and possessing child pornography with a view to transmitting or exporting it over the Internet, and luring a child by means of a computer (s. 172.1), which consists in recruiting children by means of the Internet for sexual exploitation purposes.37 2004 Adoption of the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, aimed at creating a national sex offender registry to provide police forces in the provinces and territories with up-to-date information on sex offenders. Persons registered in the National Sex Offender Registry are offenders who have been found guilty of designated sex crimes and are subject to a court order and to a notice to register issued by the Attorney General of Québec.35 2004 Amendment of the Act respecting childcare centres and childcare services and its regulations through the Entente sur le filtrage des personnes œuvrant ou appelées à œuvrer auprès de personnes vulnérables [agreement on the screening of individuals who work or will work with vulnerable persons]. This screening agreement, which had previously applied only to childcare centres, was amended to extend the use of criminal record checks to schools, school bus carriers and non-profit organizations and corporations.33 2005 Introduction of the offences of trafficking in persons (s. 279.01) and voyeurism (s. 162) in the Canadian Criminal Code.36 2006 Inclusion of a new provision in the Civil Code of Québec stipulating that a person who is a victim of sexual assault or violence on the part of a spouse, former spouse or third party may cancel his or her lease on the grounds that the safety of the person or of a child who lives with him or her is threatened (s. 1974.1).37 2007 Amendments to subparagraphs d (1) and (2) of the second paragraph of section 38 of the Youth Protection Act concerning grounds for reporting, in order to include situations where a child is subjected to gestures of a sexual nature with or without physical contact and situations where a child runs a serious risk of being subjected to gestures of a sexual nature with or without physical contact.27 2008 Raising of the legal age of consent to sexual activity that does not constitute exploitation from 14 to 16.38 2010 Introduction of trafficking of children (s. 279.011) as an offence in the Canadian Criminal Code.36 2012 Introduction of two new offences in the Canadian Criminal Code: making sexually explicit material available to a child (s. 171.1) and agreeing or arranging by a means of telecommunication to commit a sexual offence against a child (s. 172.2).36
Actions by the Québec government
In the early 2000s, the Québec government embarked on a major initiative to develop a global vision of sexual assault. Guiding principles were defined to provide a framework for decision making by the authorities, choosing actions to prevent sexual assault and dealing appropriately with people affected by this problem.4
The government’s guiding principles on sexual assault
In 2001, the Québec government set out guiding principles on sexual assault in a document entitled Orientations gouvernementales en matière d’agression sexuelle [government directions on sexual assault].4 Adopted by nine signatories (seven departments and two secretariats), this documentproposed approaches as well as coordinated joint actions to counter sexual assault. It also proposed a definition of sexual assault that recognized it as an act of power and domination of a criminal nature.
The 12 guiding principles underlying government action are as follows.
- Every person has the right to respect for his or her physical and psychological integrity.
- All children have the right to the protection and care necessary for their well-being and development; all adults, in particular those in a position of authority, must ensure the safety and protection of children.
- The safety and protection of persons must be ensured in all life settings, whether private or public.
- An individual’s right to life and security must take precedence over rules of confidentiality.
- Sexual assault is an unacceptable social problem that society must denounce and condemn.
- Sexual assault is an act of power and domination committed by one person against another.
- Sexual assault is a serious crime against the person that must be punished by the legal system.
- Eliminating sexual assault requires gender equality, collective and individual accountability, and responsible and respectful behavior toward others, especially on the part of adults toward children.
- Sexual assault victims are entitled to respect and empathy from all people who attend to them.
- Sexual assault victims must be provided with support so that they can regain control over their lives.
- In the event that a child is a victim of sexual assault, decisions must be made in his or her interests and in those of other children.
- Interventions with sex offenders must focus on making them acknowledge and assume criminal responsibility for assaults they have committed, and prevent them from reoffending
Four intervention priorities were also defined for government action against sexual assault. They are
- Promotion of basic values,
- Prevention of sexual assault,
- Detection of sexual assault, and
- Psychosocial, medical, legal and correctional intervention.
Sexual assault action plans
The actions proposed in Orientations gouvernementales en matière d’agression sexuelle are being implemented through five-year action plans. The first one covered the period 2001-2006,4 and implementation of its commitments ended in 2006.16 The most recent action plan covered the period 2008-2013 and contained 100 actions related to the four intervention priorities as well as to the various areas of expertise of the signatory partners (e.g. health and social services, public security, justice, families, children, education, recreation and sports).19
Prevention of sexual assault under the Québec government’s action plan
The government’s most recent action plan concerning sexual assault19 provides for a series of actions to prevent sexual assault that are associated with the following six objectives:
- Eliminate misconceptions and collective and individual tolerance of sexual assault.
- Prevent sexual assault by mobilizing support in all settings.
- Improve the safety of women and children in all public places.
- Establish and strengthen prevention policies and activities within organizations that work with children.
- Strengthen the ability of women and children to individually and collectively confront the reality of sexual assault.
- Undertake and evaluate prevention programs that specifically target adolescents, young men and certain other groups at greater risk of committing sexual assault.
Multi-sectoral Agreement concerning children who are victims of sexual abuse or physical ill-treatment, or whose physical health is threatened by the lack of appropriate care
- In 2001, five Québec government departments signed the Multi-sectoral Agreement concerning children who are victims of sexual abuse or physical ill-treatment, or whose physical health is threatened by the lack of appropriate care.9
- The goal of this multi-sectoral agreement is “to ensure better protection and provide the necessary aid to children who are victims of sexual abuse or physical ill-treatment, or whose physical health is threatened by the lack of appropriate care, by ensuring effective collaboration between government departments, educational institutions and relevant bodies.”9
- Three partners are involved in applying the agreement: the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ), the police and the Crown prosecutor.
- Throughout the different stages of the intervention process, these partners strive to obtain relevant information so that they can take joint decisions that respect the rights of all parties concerned.
- The agreement enables prompt and coordinated action by the competent authorities, who deploy all the means at their disposal to ensure, first and foremost, children’s best interests.
Québec’s public health program (QPHP)
- The Québec Public Health Program 2003-201239 (extended until 2015)40 guides and provides a framework for public health practices in Québec, in addition to playing an important role in leveraging prevention in Québec’s health and social services network.
In regard to sexual assault prevention, QPHP 2003-2012 focuses primarily on promoting healthy sexuality among young people, particularly by:
- providing support for consultation services on sexual health;
- offering sex education in schools;
- raising awareness among private and public decision makers about the negative impact, on children and adolescents, of exposure to inappropriate models in the media; and
- organizing Québec-wide communication campaigns on sexual assault.
Action plan on gender equality
- In 2007, the Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine [ministry of culture, communications and the feminine condition] (MCCCF) launched a cross-sectoral initiative to promote the equality of men and women and fight gender-based discrimination.
- The 2011-2015 Government Action Plan on Gender Equality,41 which is the government’s second plan in this area, is being implemented with the help of numerous partners sharing 102 actions to fight discrimination and promote equality.
- The action plan aims to combat sexual stereotypes in order to prevent inequalities related to gender-based social roles later on in life.
The actions taken under the plan are based on seven guidelines:
Guideline 1: Promoting egalitarian models and behaviour
Guideline 2: Achieving gender equality in the economic arena
Guideline 3: Achieving a better balance between responsibilities at home and at work
Guideline 4: Achieving health approaches tailored to women’s specific needs
Guideline 5: Achieving respect for women’s physical integrity and their safety in all spheres of life
Guideline 6: Achieving greater participation by women in decision-making bodies
Guideline 7: Taking action toward gender equality in the regions based on their specific needs.
Status of women and prevention of sexual assault
Several objectives of the action plan on gender equality target factors that have been identified as contributing to sexual assault. Below is a list of some of these objectives, which have given rise to specific measures:
- Promote socialization of young people not based on stereotypes.
- Promote healthy, responsible and egalitarian sexuality among young people.
- Encourage the fashion industry, the media, advertising, the music and video industry, creators, and the sports and recreation sectors to promote gender-neutral roles and behaviour.
- Support the equality of men and women in an increasingly diverse cultural and religious context.
- Prevent and counter spousal violence and sexual assault.
- Prevent and counter sexual exploitation, trafficking of women and other emerging violence problems.
- Bergeron, M. and Hébert, M. (2011). La prévention et la formation en matière d’agression sexuelle contre les enfants. In M. Hébert, M. Cyr, and M. Tourigny, eds., L’agression sexuelle envers les enfants Tome 1 (pp.445-494). Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- World Health Organization. (2010). Preventing Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Women. Taking Action and Generating Evidence. Geneva.
- Jewkes, R., Sen, P. and Garcia-Moreno, C. (2002). Sexual violence. In E.G. Krug, L.L. Dahlberg, J.A. Mercy, A. Zwi and R. Lozano-Ascencio, eds., World report on violence and health (pp. 147-181). Geneva: World Health Organization.
- Gouvernement du Québec. (2001). Orientations gouvernementales en matière d’agression sexuelle. Québec: Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. (Available in French only.)
- Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. (2010). Guide d’intervention médicosociale. Pour répondre aux besoins des victimes d’agression sexuelle. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- Gouvernement du Québec. (1989). Protocole d’intervention intersectorielle dans des situations d’abus sexuels institutionnels. Québec: Ministère des Affaires sociales. (Available in French only.)
- Gouvernement du Québec. (2007). Bilan interministériel de l’implantation de l’Entente multisectorielle relative aux enfants victimes d’abus sexuels, de mauvais traitements physiques ou d’une absence de soins menaçant leur santé physique. Québec: Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. (Available in French only.)
- Gouvernement du Québec. (1992). Entente relative à l’intervention intersectorielle à la suite d’allégations d’abus sexuels en milieu scolaire. Québec: Ministère de l’Éducation. (Available in French only.)
- Gouvernement du Québec. (2002). Multi-sectoral Agreement concerning children who are victims of sexual abuse or physical ill-treatment, or whose physical health is threatened by the lack of appropriate care. Québec: Ministère de l’Éducation.
- Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. (1991). Un Québec fou de ses enfants : Rapport du groupe de travail pour les jeunes, Québec: Gouvernement du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- Johnson, H. and Mihorean, K. (1993). Violence Against Women Survey. Highlights and Questionnaire Package. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Catalogue 11-001E.
- Groupe de travail sur les agressions à caractère sexuel. (1995). Les agressions sexuelles : STOP. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- Trocmé, N., MacLaurin, B., Fallon, B., Daciuk, J., Billingsley, D., Tourigny, M., Mayer, M., Wright, J., Barter, K., Burford, G., Hornick, J., Sullivan, R. and McKenzie, B. (2001). Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report. Ottawa (Ontario): Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
- Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B., Daciuk, J., Felstiner, C., Black, T., Tonmyr, L., Blackstock, C., Barter, K., Turcotte, R. and Cloutier, R. (2005). Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2003: Major Findings. Ottawa (Ontario): Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
- Public Health Agency of Canada. (2010). Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2008: Major Findings. Ottawa.
- Comité interministériel de coordination en matière de violence conjugale, familiale et sexuelle. (2007). Rapport sur la mise en œuvre des engagements gouvernementaux 2001-2006. Québec: Secrétariat à la condition féminine, Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine.
- Ministère de la Sécurité publique. (2004). Les agressions sexuelles: Statistiques 1997 à 2001. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- Ministère de la Sécurité publique. (2004). Les agressions sexuelles. Statistiques 2002. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- Secrétariat à la condition féminine. (2008). 2008-2013 Government Action Plan Concerning Sexual Assault. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec.
- Morris. M. (2000). Some facts and dates in Canadian women's history of the 20th century. Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women Newsletter, 20(1), Ottawa: Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW).
- From the Regroupement québécois des CALACS website: www.rqcalacs.qc.ca/historic.php
- Conseil du statut de la femme. (2011). La constante progression des femmes. Édition 2011. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec. (Available in French only)
- From the “Historique” section of the Regroupement des organismes ESPACE website: www.espacesansviolence.org (Available in French only.)
- From the “Le regroupement” section of the RIMAS website: https://www.rimas.qc.ca/regroupement (Available in French only.)
- From the CRIPHASE website: http://criphase.org/
- From the Sherbrooke University website: www.agressionsexuellemontreal.ca/reseau-des-services-en/centre-d-expertise-marie-vincent-en
- Gouvernement du Québec. Youth Protection Act. R.S.Q., chapter P-34.1.
- Gouvernement du Québec. Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. R.S.Q., chapter C-12.
- Department of Justice Canada. Canada Labour Code. Sexual Harassment. Division XV.1 R.S.C. (1985). c. L-2, ss. 247.1 to 247.4.
- Hudon, M.-C., Reynolds, S., Lemieux, D. and Bérard, C. (1994). Évolution de la loi relative aux agressions sexuelles. Québec: Regroupement québécois des CALACS and Ministère de la Justice du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- Government of Canada. (1985). Criminal Code – R.S.C. (1985), c. C-46 (s. 273.1).
- Kong, R., Johnson, H., Beattie, S. and Cardillo, A. (2003). Sexual Offences in Canada. Juristat, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Catalogue no. 85-002-XIE, Vol. 23, no. 6.
- Ministère de l’Emploi, de la Solidarité sociale et de la Famille. (2004). Vérification de l’absence d’empêchement dans les services de garde éducatifs. Guide à l’intention des services de garde éducatifs. Québec: Direction des programmes à l’enfance et à la jeunesse. (Available in French only.)
- Judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada R. v. Ewanchuk,  1 S.C.R. 330.
- Government of Canada. (2004). Sex Offender Information Registration Act. S.C. 2004, c. 10. Department of Justice Canada.
- Government of Canada. (1985). Criminal Code, R.S.C.
- Gouvernement du Québec. (2005). Civil Code. Nominate contracts. Chapter IV, Section IV,s. 1974.1. Éditeur officiel du Québec.
- Department of Justice Canada. (2008). Tackling Violent Crime Act. Department of Justice Canada.
- Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. (2003). Québec Public Health Program 2003-2012. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec.
- Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. (2008). Programme national de santé publique 2003-2012. Mise à jour 2008. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec. (Available in French only.)
- Ministère de la Culture, des Communications, et de la Condition féminine. (2011). Plan d’action gouvernemental pour l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes 2011-2015. Pour que l’égalité de droit devienne une égalité de fait. (Summary available in English: 2011–2015 Government Action Plan on Gender Equality. Turning Equality in Law Into Equality in Fact. Summary.)