About Sexual Assault

Sexual assault, no matter who the perpetrator or who the victim, is a CRIMINAL ACT. If you have been sexually assaulted, you are not to blame. Please reach out for help. It is available for you and can be provided in many different ways depending on your unique needs and situation.

If you have been sexually assaulted, see our Getting Help page.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual Assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature imposed by one person upon another (e.g. kissing, fondling, oral or anal sex, intercourse or other forms of penetration).

It can happen within marriage, common-law, same-sex and/or dating/acquaintance relationships and by an unknown perpetrator. The majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the person and some sexual assaults are committed by strangers. Sexual assault (among adults) is predominantly perpetrated against women by men. It is a crime of power and control.

If someone in a position of power, trust or authority, uses that relationship to engage in sexual activity with a person over whom he/she has power, that activity could constitute a sexual assault. Examples of those relationships are: doctor and patient, teacher and student, coach and team member, babysitter and child.

If you have been sexually assaulted, see our Getting Help page.

Common Reactions to Sexual Assault

It is important to remember that every person reacts differently to sexual assault.

Below is a list of typical reactions that survivors may experience following a sexual assault.

  • Intrusive thoughts about the assault – not being able to get the assault out of your mind
  • Nightmares and/or sleep problems
  • Very fearful
  • Feeling jumpy, on edge, etc.
  • Restlessness and difficulty sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing flashbacks – suddenly reliving the assault in some form (seeing, hearing, smelling) and feeling as if it was re-occurring
  • Crying easily
  • Moody and irritable
  • Avoidance of things associated/resembling the sexual assault
  • Thinking you see the assailant everywhere
  • Feeling different about oneself – everyone else is normal except you
  • Turning off emotionally out of shock and disbelief

These are normal reactions and usually lessen over time. However, if you are having serious or prolonged reactions to the trauma, it may be helpful to seek out professional help.

Care & Treatment Centre for Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence,
Guelph General Hospital, 2009.

The Myths Persist….

There are many misconceptions surrounding the issue of sexual assault. We have included some of them for your review. Think about how our society, in general, continues to blame the victim.

Women who are sexually assaulted are sometimes inadvertently responsible for the attack by failing to take proper precautions.
FALSE

The victim is never responsible for the crime, the assailant is. Regardless of the circumstances, the perpetrator makes a choice to commit the crime. Most sexual assaults are planned. What might deter one person can be the reason another attacks. No matter how a woman dresses, where she is, if the perpetrator paid for dinner, or whether they had sex previously justifies an assault. Consider: What is consent? What do we mean when we say “she lead him on”? When is saying no, not enough?

The usual reaction by a woman who has been sexually assaulted is uncontrollable crying or hysteria.
FALSE

A woman who has been assaulted cannot be expected to react in one particular way. She may be crying, or she may be calm. She may be silent, or she may be very angry and articulate. There are many different reactions to sexual assault. Rape Trauma Syndrome is a term used to describe what a victim goes through after an assault. You cannot tell if a woman has been sexually assaulted by her behaviour.

In most cases of sexual assault, the woman will have cuts, bruises or other physical injuries.
FALSE

Sexual assault is by its nature physically and emotionally violent. The violence may consist of threats, the presence of weapons or other actions that do not leave obvious marks. If there are physical injuries, they may not be readily visible when the woman reports the crime. Sometimes there are no physical injuries. The absence of obvious physical injuries does not mean a sexual assault did not take place. Emotional injury or trauma must also be attended to and is often overlooked.

Sexual assault happens to careless people who are “asking for it” by the way they dress or where they are.
FALSE

No one asks to be assaulted. All kinds of people, young and old are sexually assaulted in all kinds of places and at all times. The idea that victims provoke assault by “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” assumes that they have no right to be as free as you. They shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim of this crime. No one “deserves” to be sexually assaulted.

Sexual assault is an impulsive, uncontrollable act of sexual gratification.
FALSE

Sexual assault is a crime of power and dominance, acted out through sexual means. Sexual gratification is not the driving motivation. Most rapists are men who have sexual partners. Most sexual assaults are planned. Consider the consequences of this myth – what does it suggest about the responsibility of the person who commits the crime?

If a woman does not struggle, then legally she has not been sexually assaulted.
FALSE

Many women are too afraid to struggle, or freeze in terror, or are coerced and intimidated by threats, or realize that the size and strength of their assailant makes resistance dangerous. The issue is consent, not physical resistance. If the woman says no, but the man acts as if she said yes, then sexual assault has occurred. The legal system often looks more favourably on cases where there is evidence of resistance – a kind of double message for women who are taught that to resist is dangerous. Again, women are not believed if they don’t fit a preconceived notion.

Given the option, a rapist will tend to choose attractive women.
FALSE

The attractiveness of a victim is irrelevant. Sexual assault is an act of violence and aggression. The idea that rapists prefer “attractive” women reinforces the notion that women provoke an attack by the way they dress and reinforces disbelief of victims who do not fit our preconceived ideas of who is targeted.

A woman who goes home with a man on the first date is sending a message that she is interested in having sex.
FALSE

A woman is free to behave any way she wishes without being obliged to engage in sexual relations. No behaviour by one person justifies the commission of a crime by another, except in self-defense.

Women often falsely report sexual assault because they are angry with their boyfriends or husbands.
FALSE

Many people believe that women who report a sexual assault are mad or trying to get revenge or simple seeking attention. Statistics do not support this. Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported of all crimes; between 65% and 95% of incidents are never reported to the police. Some cases are classified by police as “unfounded” because the police lack enough evidence to lay charges. It does not mean that they do not believe the victim.

A prostitute will not be traumatized by a rape. After all, having sex is her job.
FALSE

A sexual assault can be just as traumatic to an experienced prostitute as to anyone else, and she has as much right to treatment, protection and justice. Remember, rape is a crime of violence not simply a sexual act.

The person who is sexually assaulted is the only one who suffers.
FALSE

Sexual assault affects the victim’s family, friends and neighbours. The fear of sexual assault affects all women. The economic costs of sexual assault affect us all. Sexual assault is a societal problem.

Women cannot be sexually assaulted by their husbands or boyfriends.
FALSE

Under the law, women have the right to say no to any form of sex, even in a marriage or dating relationship. The Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women 1993 found that 38% of sexually assaulted women where assaulted by their husbands, common-law partners or boyfriends. Few women report such incidents to the police.

Myths From the Care & Treatment Centre for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, Guelph General Hospital