Sexual assault occurs when someone is coerced to engage in sexual contact.
Specifically, in Canada, if a person is forced to have sexual contact, or if they are unable to consent, the behaviour of the perpetrator is considered sexual assault, and this is a criminal offence.
The force necessary can be any amount, or it may be the threat of physical force that places the person in fear of injury to themselves or to their family, or in fear of their life or their family members’ lives. The assailant does not necessarily need to use a weapon or injure the person to make them fearful of injury or fear for their life.
The different types of sexual assaults defined by law in the Criminal Code of Canada are the following:
Sexual assault: It is a crime if someone forces any form of sexual activity on someone else (e.g. kissing, fondling, touching, sexual intercourse) without that person’s consent. Anyone convicted faces a maximum penalty of 10 years.
Sexual assault with a weapon occurs if, during a sexual assault, someone either uses a weapon or threatens to use a weapon (imitation or real); someone threatens to cause bodily harm to a third person (i.e. child, family or friend), someone causes bodily harm to another person; more than one person assaults someone in the same incident. Anyone convicted of this crime faces a maximum penalty of 14 years of imprisonment.
Aggravated sexual assault occurs if, while being sexually assaulted someone is wounded, maimed, disfigured or brutally beaten; or is in danger of losing their life. Anyone convicted of this crime faces a maximum penalty or life imprisonment.
When someone is forced to have sexual contact with someone they know such as an acquaintance, a friend, a date, a spouse or a partner, it is a sexual assault.
Q. Is it considered sexual assault only when a man assaults a woman?
Sexual violence can occur in any relationship, including same-sex relationships. Fear of homophobic responses by service providers may prevent lesbians or gay men who are survivors of sexual assault from seeking legal, medical or community support.
Q. What if I didn't actually say "no"?
The law requires a person's voluntary consent to the sexual act.
The law protects women from the assumption that a previous "yes" means "yes" for all times. Previous sexual relations does not imply continued permission.
A person's willingness to engage in one type of sexual activity does not give a partner the right to commit a different sexual act against the person's will.
A person also has the legal right to change their mind after foreplay or in the middle of a sexual activity. There is no consent if the person says "stop".
Q. What can I do after a sexual assault?
Get medical attention.
Report the incident to the police.
Q. What is "rape trauma syndrome?"
Some of these reactions may be short-lived, while others can be present for months or years. Some of the reactions may only manifest themselves after a period of time, and particularly stressful events may trigger the symptoms. It is important to know that help is available through counselling services. (Refer to the Resources section for information on counselling services that may be available to you, such as the Student Counselling Services, or the Employer Assistane Program.) You don't have to go through it alone.