Sexual assault is the legal term used in Canada to refer to any form of sexual contact without voluntary consent. Kissing, fondling, sexual intercourse, anal intercourse, and oral sex are all examples of sexual assault if they are done without voluntary consent. Consent obtained through pressure, coercion, force, or threats of force is not voluntary consent.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, “Consent is defined as a voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question.” (Section 273.1)
Consent is NOT given if:
- it is given by someone else,
- the person is unconscious, drunk, stoned, or sleeping,
- it is an abuse of power, trust, or authority,
- the person does not say yes, says no, or through words or behavior, implies no,
- the person changes her/his mind.
Acquaintance Sexual Assault
Acquaintance sexual assault is sexual assault that is committed by someone you know. The offending acquaintance can be someone you hardly know and is by far the most common type of sexual assault (e.g. a friend of a friend, someone you met that night or someone you are close to e.g. a friend or a boyfriend or girlfriend).
- 1 in 5 U of A students reported having at least one unwanted sexual experience in their lifetime.(LoVerso, 2001)
- A woman's risk of being sexually assaulted by an acquaintance is four times greater that her risk of being assaulted by a stranger. (Warshaw, 1988)
- In Canada, 85% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. (Statistics Canada, 1993).
- A Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experiences Among University of Alberta Students found that 93% of those who reported an unwanted sexual experience were assaulted by someone they knew. (LoVerso, 2001).
- Fewer than 10% of sexual assaults are reported to the police (Statistics Canada, 2004)
What To Do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted
After a sexual assault you may feel many things including shock, fear, anger, upset, numbness or disbelief. These feelings will vary depending on how long ago the assault happened, and how many other stressors you are dealing with in your life. If you were recently assaulted, or if you are remembering things from a past assault, it is important to take care of yourself and ensure all of your needs are being met. Try not to let others pressure you into making decisions, and instead ask yourself, what is the best decision for me.
Whether you were sexually assaulted recently or in your past, some of the options you may want to consider include:
- Doing nothing. It is OK to wait to take the time to process what has happened to ensure you are making decisions that are in your best interest.
- Calling a 24-hour crisis line number, in case you need to talk in the middle of the night. This can be important if you are experiencing nightmares or are having difficulty sleeping. Two examples are: Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton at 780-423-4121 or The Support Network at 780-482-4357.
- Going in person to a Sexual Assault Centre. The University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre located in the Students' Union Building, offers a confidential, anonymous and safe place to talk about your sexual assault experience. The Centre provides support to both women and men, and if you choose, can help advocate on your behalf regarding academic or reporting matters.
- Seeking medical attention. This can be important for receiving testing and preventative medication for sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy, or for receiving care for any injuries you may have. You can go to the emergency room at a hospital, or if you do not need emergency attention, to the University Health Centre, or your physician.
- Reporting the incident to the Police or to UAPS. You do not have to report the sexual assault to Police or UAPS, and choosing to report may or may not be an important part of your recovery process. Sexual assault is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada and is also a violation of the University’s Code of Student Behavior. Reporting is a viable option certainly when there are others in the community who may be at risk and therefore should be reported to the Police and/or UAPS
- Telling someone you trust. Disclosing the sexual assault to someone you feel will be supportive can provide you with another person in your life who understands what you are going through.
Beginning long term counseling. Because sexual assault can be a traumatic experience, you may choose to see a counselor.
What To Do If Someone Tells You That They Have Been Sexually Assaulted
Listening to a disclosure of sexual assault can feel overwhelming, but there are three very basic and important steps when supporting a survivor of sexual assault. These steps may seem too simple, but they are very effective:
- Listen - Letting the survivor get their story out, and listening attentively can be very validating and helpful to them. You can show you are listening by making eye contact, maintaining open body posture, and limiting your questions. Often, you may have questions pop into your head while they are speaking. Instead of asking the question immediately, consider if the question is important or if you are asking it simply out of curiosity. If the question may help the survivor then it is appropriate to ask. It can be difficult for survivors to share their story, therefore allowing silence and giving the survivor the time to tell the story in his/her own way is helpful.
- Believe - This is another basic, but very important step. All too often survivors are questioned as to if they are telling the truth about their sexual assault. This disbelief by others may cause serious setbacks in the survivor’s recovery. She/he may not disclose to anyone else again after being disbelieved, and the survivor may blame her/himself even more for the sexual assault. Believing the survivor’s story shows the survivor that she/he is not to blame for the assault, and it makes it easier for her/him to tell others.
- Provide Options - During a sexual assault, all control has been taken away from the survivor. As a supporter you can help them regain a sense of control by letting the survivor make her/his own decisions with regard to their recovery. Once the survivor has finished disclosing her/his story, this may be an appropriate time to offer options to them. Some of these options include going to the hospital, reporting to the Police or UAPS, seeing a counselor, joining a support group, or doing nothing. (See above under What To Do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted.)