- Sexual assaults can have long-lasting consequences and deleterious effects for victims and their loved ones. Family and friends play an important role in helping victims following the disclosure of sexual assault.
- In Québec, there are resources available for both minors and adults who have been sexually assaulted. However, a large percentage of Canadians report having little or no knowledge at all of the services available to victims of crime.1
- Victims of sexual assault have immediate access to support services, sexual assault centres, health and social services centres, community organizations, youth protection services, as well as crime victim services and compensation.
Helping a victim of sexual assault
- Although not specific, there are a number of warning signs that someone may have been sexually assaulted. Learning to recognize those signs is the first step in supporting the victim.2,3,4
- Several studies have highlighted the importance of the support of family and friends in a sexual assault victim’s adjustment, especially child victims, following disclosure of the assault.5,6
- Support includes believing the victim’s story, having a positive reaction and ensuring the presence of significant people in the victim’s life who can be supportive.5
- Nearly three quarters (72%) of Canadian adults who reported having been sexually assaulted after age 15 turned to friends, 41% to family, 33% to co-workers, and 13% to doctors or nurses.7 These findings confirm the importance of family and friends in providing sexual assault victims with support.
Signs of child sexual abuse
In the vast majority of cases, child sexual abuse leaves no detectable physical evidence. Indeed, the majority of sexually abused children will have normal findings in a medical examination.8,10 Similarly, abnormal anogenital findings do not necessarily prove that there has been sexual abuse, as some abnormal physical signs or symptoms may also be due to other causes.9.
- Since only a small percentage of sexually abused children disclose the experience to family and friends, adults want to know what the warning signs are, how they can tell if a child has been sexually abused.
- However, there are very few specific signs and indicators, even physical, of child sexual abuse. Changes in behaviour could be a sign that a child has experienced an upsetting event, particularly if the changes persist and are concomitant with other abnormal behaviour.6,8,9
- Adults should pay attention to any change in a child’s behaviour, regardless of whether sexual abuse is suspected. Most signs of sexual abuse correspond to the consequences of child sexual abuse.4,10,11 However, the same signs may also be displayed in non-abused children. For example:
- Advanced sexual knowledge
- Sexual behaviour problems
- Isolation and withdrawal
- Decline in school performance
- Distress around a particular adult
- Excessively seeking time with a particular adult
- Gifts received without knowing from whom
Indicators of a history of sexual assault in adults
- There are no clear indicators that an adult was sexually assaulted either as a child or an adult. Indicators of possible sexual victimization histories in adults primarily correspond to the short- or long-term consequences of sexual assault.
- Adults who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to suffer physical and mental health effects and impacts on their well-being.12,13,14 However, these types of problems and behaviours cannot be attributed solely to sexual assault.
- To learn about the outcomes in adulthood of a history of sexual assault, see the section on the consequences of childhood sexual abuse exhibited in adulthood and the consequences of adult sexual assault.
What to do if child sexual abuse is suspected
- If you think a child may have been sexually abused:
- Let the child know that you notice a difference (change in behaviour) and that you are willing and available to listen if the child wants to talk (e.g. “You’ve been sad lately and I’m concerned … I’d like to help you if I can. Just know that I’m here if you want to talk about whatever’s bothering you, even if it’s hard to say out loud.”).
- Avoid asking the child leading questions that suggest the desired answer.
- Report the situation to the Director of Youth Protection if there is reason to believe that the child’s security or development is in danger. You do not have to be certain that sexual abuse has occurred in order to report the situation
What to do if a minor discloses sexual abuse
Children rarely make false allegations of sexual abuse. It is important to believe a child who confides that he or she has been sexually abused. It is not up to the adult who receives a disclosure of sexual abuse to investigate the credibility of the child’s allegations; it is up to the appropriate authorities
- Children often disclose sexual abuse in stages, either accidentally or through the odd reference here or there, which makes it difficult for the person receiving the disclosure to know how to interpret the allegations.2
- The following guidelines should be followed if a child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused:2,3,4
- Take the time to listen.
- Reassure the child that you believe him or her and that what happened is not the child’s fault.
- Avoid asking leading questions that might influence the child’s answer or taint his or her testimony.
- Try not to judge or react strongly.
- Write down what the child says and the context in which the abuse was disclosed.
- Do not promise to keep what the child said a secret. Tell the child that you have to share the information with people whose job it is to keep children safe.
- Immediately report the situation to the Director of Youth Protection or the police.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
IIf you suspect a child has been sexually abused, it is important to avoid asking leading questions (in particular questions requiring a “yes” or “no” answer) because they can upset the child even more and taint his or her testimony.Examples of the types of questions to be avoided:4
- Did someone touch your private parts?
- Did you see his penis?
- Did he touch you there?
- Were you naked?
- Did he touch you on top of your clothes or underneath your clothes?
Reporting sexual abuse against a minor
Under Québec’s Youth Protection Act,15 any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that a child is being sexually abused has a legal obligation to report the situation to either the Director of Youth Protection (DYP) or the police. The person does not have to be certain that sexual abuse has taken place. An adult who has doubts about whether the child’s allegations are true must not attempt to obtain more information before notifying the authorities. It is not the adult’s responsibility to make sure the child is telling the truth, but simply to report the situation. Situations may be reported in all confidentiality 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It is also possible to report the suspected abuse to the police, who will bring it to the DYP’s attention under a multi-sectoral agreement.
The guide entitled Filing a Report with the DYP is Already Protecting a Child provides information on how to report a situation to the Director of Youth Protection.
To report a situation, see the list of DYP offices in each region.
What to do if an adult discloses sexual assault
- The response and support of the victim’s family and friends plays an important role in the process of healing following disclosure of a sexual assault. However, the person in whom the victim confides may be taken aback by the news and feel strong emotions. Below are helpful reactions to try and have if a person tells you he or she has been sexually assaulted:16,17
- Listen attentively.
- Believe the person.
- Do not show judgment through your reactions or questions.
- Comfort the person and make it clear that the perpetrator is at fault.
- Determine if the person is in danger or has thoughts of suicide.
- Find out what resources are available in the region and, if necessary, refer the person to them.
- Seek support for yourself if need be.
Immediate support services available to victims of sexual assault
- In an emergency, call the police by dialling 9-1-1.
- To file a complaint, go directly to the police station for assistance. A sexual assault investigator will interview the victim.
Help is just a phone call away
- An information and referral helpline for sexual assault victims, their loved ones and people who work with victims provides assistance or just a caring ear. Bilingual, confidential service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Anywhere in Québec: 1-888-933-9007
- Montréal area: 514-933-9007
Suicide prevention centres
- A suicide hotline is available to help people 24/7. The toll-free number directs calls to the regional suicide prevention centre.
- Anywhere in Québec: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Association québécoise de prévention du suicide website
- A designated centre is a health and social services institution (generally a hospital) that provides medical, medico-social and medico-legal services to victims of recent sexual assault (female and male children, teenagers and adults) who are in need of medical care (medical evaluation or examination, forensic examination).17
- Services are delivered by a team of social workers, nurses and physicians.
- The centres are open 24/7 and see victims within a minimum wait time. There is a designated centre in every region of Québec.16 For contact information, consult the list of designated centres.
Who can use the services of a designated centre?
- Anyone (child, teenager or adult) who has been sexually assaulted within the last five days can go to a designated centre to receive emergency treatment to address their medical, medico-legal and psychosocial needs.
- Children and teenagers can see the designated centre’s sexual assault team after the five-day window has passed if their condition necessitates specialized medical expertise provided by the centre’s team of professionals.
- Adult sexual assault victims who are not treated within five days are placed on a waiting list and are seen from six days to six months after the assault, depending on the designated centre.
Health and social services centres (CSSSs)
- CSSSs offer a range of general health and social services to the public as well as a number of specialized services. They are also responsible for:
- taking in charge, accompanying and supporting vulnerable persons;
- providing intake, assessment and referral services to users and their families;
- promoting health and well-being.
- Where a CSSS provides the services of a designated centre or those of a hospital centre, a person may go there in an emergency.
- There are 94 CSSSs across Québec. To find out the contact information for the centre in your region, consult the list of CSSSs.
Director of Youth Protection (DYP)
- The first thing to do if child sexual abuse is suspected is to report the situation to the Director of Youth Protection (DYP). The DYP will analyze the report and, if the report is retained, determine the support services to be provided to the child and the child’s family.
- Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that a child is being sexually abused (or subjected to other forms of maltreatment, neglect or abandonment or has behaviour problems) has a legal obligation to report the situation to the regional DYP without delay. Situations can be reported 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the information remains confidential.
- Professionals working for youth centres, which are under the responsibility of the Director of Youth Protection, are available around the clock to ensure young people are protected. If the circumstances warrant it, they can take immediate protective measures to ensure the security of the child by providing services and removing the child from the family home.
- There are 16 youth centres and 3 multipurpose centres in Québec. They can be found in each of Québec’s health and social services regions.
- To report a situation, consult the list of DYPs in each region.
- For emergencies: 9-1-1
(if there is reasonable cause to believe that the security or development of the child is in immediate danger)
Community organizations that assist victims of sexual assault
- Various organizations exist in Québec to address the diverse needs of sexual assault victims in different areas (judicial process, treatment of sequelae, assistance and support, psychological support, etc.).
- The website of the Ministère la Santé et des Services sociaux contains a directory of community organizations for sexual assault victims, by administrative region and type of organization.
Assistance centres for victims of sexual assault (CALACS)
CALACS are centres that provide direct help to sexually assaulted women and teenage girls aged 14 and over. They provide the following services:
- individual help services and group support meetings
- emergency meetings
- assistance and support in dealings with hospitals, police, courts, etc.
Resources for male victims of sexual assault
- Some of Québec’s regions have community organizations that specifically support men who were sexually abused as children. The contact information for these organizations can be found on the website of the Ministère de la Santé et des services sociaux in the directory of community organizations for sexual assault victims by administrative region and type of organization.
- Also, the Directory of Services and Programs for Abused Men in Canada (2004) provides a listing of services for men who have experienced intimate partner abuse. Listings are presented by province and territory.
Sexual harassment resource
The Help and Information Center on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is a support group for people seeking moral help and specialized assistance in defending their right to work in an environment free of sexual and/or psychological harassment. For more information, visit the website Groupe d'aide et d'information sur le harcèlement sexuel au travail.
Resources for crime victims
Crime victim assistance centres (CAVACs)
- Crime victim assistance centres, known as CAVACs, provide front-line services to all crime victims, regardless of age or sex. The services are free of charge and confidential.
- The services provided by CAVACs, often in relation to the judicial process, focus on giving crime victims tools to regain a sense of control over their lives as quickly as possible. There is a CAVAC in every region of Québec.
- Available assistance includes:
- Post-trauma and psychosocial intervention;
- Information on crime victim rights and remedies;
- Technical assistance (filling out forms, understanding rules and regulations, procedures);
- Referrals to specialized services.
- To find the CAVAC service points in your region, consult the list of centres in the CAVAC network.
Direction de l’indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels
- The Direction de l’indemnisation des victimes d’actes criminels (IVAC) grants financial compensation to people who suffer injuries as a result of a crime committed in Québec.
- Compensation and services include indemnities for disability (total, temporary and permanent), death benefits, medical aid and rehabilitation services.
- To learn about IVAC services and contact a service point, visit the IVAC website
- McDonald, S. and Scrim, K. (2011). Canadians’ awareness of victim issues: A benchmarking study. Victims of Crime Research Digest, Issue No. 4. Department of Justice Canada: Research and Statistics Division.
- Saint-Pierre, F. and Viau, M.F. (2010). L'enfant victime d'agression sexuelle : Comprendre et aider. Montréal: Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine. (Available in French only)
- Canadian Centre for Child Protection. (2011). Child Sexual Abuse: It is Your Business. Brochure.
- Young, S. and Durocher, L. (2010). Guide de soutien à la pratique en abus sexuels et en comportements sexuels problématiques chez les enfants âgés de 0 à 11 ans. Montréal: Centre jeunesse de Montréal, Institut universitaire. (Available in French only)
- Hébert, M. (2011). Les profils et l’évaluation des enfants victimes d’agression sexuelle. In M. Hébert, M. Cyr, and M. Tourigny, eds., L’agression sexuelle envers les enfants Tome 1 (pp.149-204). Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec. (Available in French only)
- Campbell, R., Dworkin, E. and Cabral, G. (2009). An ecological model of the impact of sexual assault on women’s mental health. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 10(3): 225-246.
- Brennan, S. and Taylor-Butts, A. (2008). Sexual assault in Canada, 2004 and 2007. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Catalogue no. 85F0033M, no. 19.
- Allard-Dansereau, C. and Lever, S. (2010). La consultation médicale. In F. St-Pierre and M.F. Viau, eds., L'enfant victime d'agression sexuelle : Comprendre et aider. (pp.133-143). Montréal: Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine. (Available in French only)
- Allard-Dansereau, C. and Frappier, J.Y. (2011). L’intervention médicale et médicolégale. In M. Hébert, M. Cyr and M. Tourigny, eds., L’Agression sexuelle envers les enfants Tome 1. (pp. 97-147). Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec. (Available in French only)
- Kellogg, N. (2005). The Evaluation of Sexual Abuse in Children. Pediatrics, 116(2): 506-512.
- Felzen Johnson, C. (2006). Sexual Abuse in Children. Pediatrics in Review, 27(1): 17-27.
- 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.
- Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Whitfield, C.L., Brown, D.W., Felitti, V.J., Dong, M. and Giles, W.H. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28(5): 430-438.
- Thibodeau, C. and Lavoie, F. (2012). Influence d’une agression sexuelle vécue pendant l’enfance sur la santé physique à l’âge adulte. In M. Hébert, M. Cyr, and M. Tourigny, eds., L’agression sexuelle envers les enfants Tome 2 (pp. 225-258). Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec. (Available in French only)
- Gouvernement du Québec. Youth Protection Act. R.S.Q., chapter P-34.1.
- Pouliot, C. (2008). Guide d’information à l’intention des victimes d’agression sexuelle. Table de concertation sur les agressions à caractère sexuel de Montréal. (Available in French only)
- Gouvernement du Québec. (2010). Protocole d’intervention médicosociale. Organisation des services et grandes lignes de l’intervention. Québec: Direction des communications, Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux du Québec. (Available in French only)