Sexual violence definitions

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is an act committed against someone’s sexual integrity without that person’s freely given consent. It can be physical or non-contact, affects all ages and genders, and the person committing the act may be known or a stranger. It is against the law – both civil and criminal – and includes but is not limited to:

  • sexual assault
  • sexual harassment
  • sexual exploitation

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature that is imposed on another person without their consent. It can include forced or unwanted:

  • kissing
  • touching
  • vaginal penetration
  • anal penetration
  • oral sex

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment involves any unwanted sexual behaviour that affects or prevents a person from getting or keeping a job, promotion or living accommodations.

It is a form of discrimination based on the grounds of gender, including transgender, which is prohibited under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

It includes unwanted or uninvited:

  • sexual remarks
  • gestures
  • sounds like leering or whistling
  • actions that make a person feel unsafe, degraded or uncomfortable, even if the harasser claims to have been only joking

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation happens when a person in a position of trust or authority uses that power to start or attempt sexual activity with another person. It can be direct or indirect and may include:

  • touching
  • violence
  • coercion
  • use of threats

Who is affected

According to the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services and Statistics Canada:

  • 87% of survivors are women, although sexual violence can impact all genders
  • 94% of sexual violence offenders are men
  • 95% of survivors do not report assaults to police, making sexual violence the most under‑reported crime in Canada
  • an estimated 1.8 million Albertans have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. That is 45% of Alberta’s population – almost one in every 2 people
  • women in Alberta are more likely than men to report experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour online, including online harassment
  • women are more likely (29%) to report experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace than men (17%)
  • 4 in 10 (39%) women working in a male-dominated environment have been targeted by unwanted sexual behaviour.
  • In 2019, there were 14,156 senior victims of police-reported violence in Canada – of these, 599 were sexual assault. The rate of sexual assault was higher for senior women (15 victims per 100,000 population) than senior men (2 victims per 100,000 population).
  • based on previous research and current population, it is estimated that 325,000 children are currently experiencing sexual abuse in Alberta
  • between 2020 and 2021, police reported sexual assaults have increased by 21% in Alberta

According to Statistics Canada, some groups are more likely to experience sexual violence:

2SLGBTQQIA+

In 2019, Canadians who identified as bisexual had a rate of sexual assault 29 times higher than those who identified as heterosexual. Almost half of all transgender people (47%) have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.

Indigenous women and girls

Indigenous women and girls in Canada are 3 times more likely to be victims of violence than non-Indigenous women. In 2022, almost half (46%) of Indigenous women have experienced sexual assault. In comparison, a third (33%) on non-Indigenous women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime.

Children and adolescents

In 2016, the rates of police-reported sexual assault were highest among youth aged 16 to 17, while sexual violations against children were highest among those aged 12 to 15 in Alberta.

People with disabilities

In Canada, the rate of sexual assault among people with a disability is approximately 2 times higher than those with no disability. In 2018, persons with mental health related disabilities were 3 times more likely than those without disabilities to report that they had been physically or sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months.

Over half of women with mental health related disabilities (55%) reported that they had been a victim of sexual assault at least once since age 15.

Myths about sexual assault

Myth Fact
Sexual assault is most often committed by strangers. Of sexual assaults where a charge was laid by police, the majority (87%) of victims knew their assailant, most commonly as a casual acquaintance, a family member or an intimate partner.
Sexual assault is most likely to happen outside in dark, dangerous places. The majority of sexual assaults occur in private spaces like a residence or private home.
If a survivor does not report to the police, it was not sexual assault. Just because a survivor does not report the assault does not mean it did not happen. In 2014, 95% of survivors did not report their assaults to the police, making sexual violence the most under‑reported crime in Canada.
It is not a big deal to have sex with someone while the person is drunk, under the influence of drugs or passed out. If someone is unconscious or incapable of consenting due to the use of alcohol or drugs, they cannot legally give consent. Without consent, it is sexual assault.
Spouses cannot sexually assault their partner. Sexual assault can occur in a married or other intimate partner relationship.
If a survivor did not scream or fight back, it probably was not sexual assault. There are different responses to fear. When a person is sexually assaulted, they may become paralyzed with fear and be unable to fight back. They may be fearful that if they struggle, the perpetrator will become more violent. If the survivor is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the survivor may be incapacitated or unable to resist.
If a survivor does not have obvious physical injuries, like cuts or bruises, it probably was not sexual assault. Lack of physical injury does not mean that a survivor was not sexually assaulted. An offender may use threats, weapons, or other coercive actions that do not leave physical marks. The survivor may have been unconscious or been otherwise incapacitated.
Survivors lie and make up stories about being sexually assaulted. The number of false reports for sexual assault is very low, consistent with the number of false reports for other crimes in Canada.

Resources

Fact sheets

Ending Sexual Violence in Alberta

Respect Sexual Consent (PDF, 258 KB)

Sexual Harassment in Sport and Recreation

Statistics

The statistics mentioned on this page are from:

Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services

Statistics Canada