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Sexual Assault Advice

Definition, Typical Assailant, Usual Circumstances, Steps to Take, Who to Tell, Blame and Regret

Sexual assault is one of the most common and underreported crimes in Canada. It encompasses numerous definitions and can range from mild to extreme in severity. Sexual assault is committed by both men and women (though more commonly men) and people of all demographics are potential victims.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual act, including any touching (or forced touching by the victim) of a sexual nature that occurs without the true consent of both parties. Consent is the critical element in distinguishing between sexual assault and merely sexual activity. In order for consent to be given the consenting individual must be:

a) of legal age (currently 14 in Canada, unless one individual is in a position of power)
b) of sound mind and capacity - they must be capable of understanding what they are consenting to
c) voluntary - one cannot be forced by threats or intimidation to consent

It is important to note that the question of whether a sexual assault meets the criminal definition of sexual assault under Canada's Criminal Code is a question of law to be determined through the court process.

Typical Assailant

Most victims of sexual assault are not assaulted by a stranger, but someone they know. This commonly includes family members, co-workers, dates, boyfriends, friends, and other individuals within close proximity to the victim. This fact contributes to the problem of underreporting sexual assault to the police as victims fear the effects pressing charges may have on their personal relationships, employment, etc.

Sexual assaults are also committed by strangers, but this is much less common. You can significantly reduce your odds of being sexual assaulted by a stranger by taking some precautionary steps as detailed here.

Where and When Sexual Assaults take place

Sexual assaults typically take place in areas of relative privacy, but can occur in public as well. Obviously there is no set rule, but it is important to be cognizant of some typical scenarios in order to actively avoid sexual assault.


Any situation involving alcohol or drugs heightens the risk of sexual assault dramatically because: 1) assailants are more likely to act while inebriated, and 2) victims may lack the ability to give true consent. Sexual assault is also fairly common in areas where alcohol is consumed, such as nightclubs and bars. This is perhaps the most likely place to be sexually assault in public. In fact, mild sexual assaults occur on the dance floors of nightclubs across Canada on a nightly basis.

Abusive Relationships

Abusive and/or controlling relationships also pose a high risk factor for sexual assault. Boyfriends who are unusually controlling, jealous, or demanding may be at a higher risk to commit sexual assault. Of course, this is merely a warning sign and not typical of all scenarios.   


Individuals who lack the ability to defend themselves, understand, and report incidents of sexual assault are highly vulnerable because assailants perceive them as low risk targets. Individuals in this category may be very young children, the mentally challenged, individuals with brain injuries, the elderly, or individuals with a lack of conscious awareness. Such abuse is particularly difficult to stop because the victims are unaware or unable to appreciate the fact that they are being victimized.

Power Imbalance

When one individual has a significant degree of power or influence over another individual there is a heightened risk of sexual assault. Common scenarios include the workplace, educational institutions, and religious groups/institutions. The victim may feel forced to consent to sexual behaviour out of fear that they will be punished or penalized for saying no.  Furthermore, assailants recognize this weakness and may choose to exploit it.

Common Locations
  • victims home
  • assailant's home
  • a third party's home
  • car
  • private area of a public building
  • nightclubs
Situational Factors:
  • alcohol/drugs
  • abusive/controlling relationships
  • presence of verbal abuse
  • presence of non sexual physical abuse
  • imbalance of power between victims and assailant
  • a victim who is vulnerable or powerless

If you suspect a loved one is being sexually abused and/or you recognized some or many of the above noted warning signs, it's time to act now.

Steps to Take

The step after an incident of sexual assault takes place is to contact a health professional (medical Doctor) to collect evidence and perform needed health tests (such as checking for STDs and other trauma/infections). You must tell the Doctor that you have been sexually assaulted in order for him or her to take the necessary actions and examinations. Do not wash, bath, or change your clothes before such medical examinations if possible as this will help preserve crucial evidence.

Even if you choose not to report the incident to the police (which we encourage you do), the medical examination is crucial part of ensuring your health is not compromised and avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

You also ought to report the crime to the local police as soon as possible. In helping you do this, it is a good idea to take note of some important factors of the incident while they are still fresh in your mind, such as:
  • date/time
  • perpetrator(s) name/description
  • sequence of events
  • presence/names of witnesses
  • what clothes you were wearing
  • what clothes the assailant was wearing
  • whether consent was sought
  • location of sexual assault
  • comments made by the assailant or anyone else at the scene
  • comment made by yourself to the assailant
  • hitting or other physical contact between parties
  • any weapons used
  • any threats or promises made
  • presence of bodily fluids
  • injuries notes
  • any other unusual details
It may be a good idea to write down your answer to the above factors as it will help refresh your memory later on. If you give a statement to the police, you can also use this list to ensure you remember to include crucial information.

While we realize reporting the assault to the police is an incredibly difficult thing to do, we encourage you to report the crime to help prevent further victims of sexual assault by the assailant. Furthermore, reporting the incident may also provide an element of psychological closure. Many have found this, while stressful, does help with the healing process in the long run.

Who to tell

One of the toughest questions victims face is the prospect of telling friends and family about the abuse. Remember that this is your choice and that nobody should pressure you to speak about the incident if you are uncomfortable.

Many victims have been quite successful in choosing not to talk about the incident outside of police and medical professionals, while others do better openly discussing their experience. Whether to talk or not depends on your personality type and whether you personally feel that it would be helpful.

We recognize that discussion can be therapeutic for some, but we do caution people to be careful in telling those around you as you may attract attention to the incident that you really don't want.

Here, we maintain an anonymous discussion board to allow victims to discuss experiences with others who can emphasize and understand their pain. The users of our forum are largely victims themselves who have been through similar situations.

Blame and Regret

No matter what the circumstances, you must remember that you are the victim and thus not to blame in any way for what happened. There is no such thing as "asking for" or "inviting" a sexual assault. A sexual assault occurs solely because the perpetrator chose to act against your will.

We've all found ourselves in risky or dangerous situations and it's easy to say in hindsight that one to say or feel they should have "known better". Such thinking is destructive in that it places blame on the wrong party. Anyone is a potential victim of sexual assault no matter how many step they take to lower their risks.

While you may feel regret about going to a particular place, or getting involved with a particular person, you are not to blame for what happened because a sexual assault is by definition an event that you cannot control.

Regret is part of human nature. You must learn to push these feelings aside by labelling them as wrong and irrational. If you feel regret and feelings of self-blame are taking over your life, you may want to discuss these feelings with a counsellor or other professional. You are certainly not alone and many people in your position have conquered these very same thoughts and have moved on successfully with their lives.

Disclaimer: All information on this page is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice or presumed to be completely accurate, or infinitely up to date. If you have questions regarding your case, please contact a local lawyer immediately because there are time limitations on civil claims.
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