What Is Sexual Assault

As defined in the BCIT Policy 7103, sexual assault is:

Any form of unwelcome activity of a sexual nature imposed by one person on another without consent. More specifically, sexual assault:

Some myths and misconceptions about sexual assault

Myth Fact
Sexual assault can't happen to me or anyone I know. Sexual assault can and does happen to anyone. People of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds are victims of sexual assault. Young women, Aboriginal women and women with disabilities are at greater risk of experiencing sexual assault.
Sexual assault is most often committed by strangers. Someone known to the victim, including acquaintances, dating partners, and common-law or married partners, commit approximately 82 percent of sexual assaults.
Sexual assault is most likely to happen outside in dark, dangerous places. The majority of sexual assaults happen in private spaces like a residence or private home.
If an individual doesn’t report to the police, it wasn't sexual assault. Just because a victim doesn’t report the assault doesn't mean it didn't happen. Fewer than one in ten victims report the crime to police.
It's not a big deal to have sex with someone while he/she is drunk, stoned or passed out. If a person is unconscious or incapable of consenting due to the use of alcohol or drugs, he/she cannot legally give consent. Without consent, it is sexual assault.
If the person chose to drink or use drugs, then it isn't considered sexual assault. This is a prominent misconception about sexual assault. No one can consent while drunk. Some people drink to lose their inhibitions. If you're going to be drinking with a partner and maybe hooking up later while drunk, discuss boundaries ahead of time, but know that consent can't truly be given in advance.
If the person didn't scream or fight back, it probably wasn't sexual assault.
If the victim does not fight back, the sexual assault is his/her fault.
When an individual is sexually assaulted he/she may become paralyzed with fear and be unable to fight back. The person may be fearful that if he/she struggles, the perpetrator will become more violent. If the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he/she may be incapacitated or unable to resist.
If the person didn't say no, it must be his/her fault. People who commit sexual assault/abuse are trying to gain power and control over their victim. They want to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to say no. A person does not need to actually say the word "no" to make it clear that he/she did not want to participate.
If a person isn't crying or visibly upset, it probably wasn't a serious sexual assault. Everyone responds to the trauma of sexual assault differently. They may cry or they may be calm. They may be silent or very angry. Their behaviour is not an indicator of their experience. It is important not to judge a person by how they respond to the assault.
If someone does not have obvious physical injuries, like cuts or bruises, he/she probably was not sexually assaulted. Lack of physical injury does not mean that a person wasn't sexually assaulted. An offender may use threats, weapons, or other coercive actions that do not leave physical marks. The person may have been unconscious or been otherwise incapacitated.
If it really happened, the victim would be able to easily recount all the facts in the proper order. Shock, fear, embarrassment and distress can all impair memory. Many survivors attempt to minimize or forget the details of the assault as a way of coping with trauma. Memory loss is common when alcohol and/or drugs are involved.
Individuals lie and make up stories about being sexually assaulted; and most reports of sexual assault turn out to be false. According to Statistics Canada, fewer than one in 10 people who experience sexual assault report the crime to the police. Less than two percent of sexual assault reports are false; the same false reporting rate as for all other major crimes.
The number of false reports for sexual assault is very low, consistent with the number of false reports for other crimes in Canada. Sexual assault carries such a stigma that many people prefer not to report.
Persons with disabilities don't get sexually assaulted. Individuals with disabilities are at a high risk of experiencing sexual violence or assault. Those who live with activity limitations are over two times more likely to experience sexual assault than those who are able-bodied.
A spouse or significant other cannot sexually assault their partner. Sexual assault can occur in a married or other intimate partner relationship. The truth is, sexual assault occurs ANY TIME there is not consent for sexual activity of any kind. Being in a relationship does not exclude the possibility of, or justify, sexual assault. A person has the right to say “no” at any point.
People who are sexually assaulted "ask for it" by their provocative behavior or dress. This statement couldn't be more hurtful or wrong. Nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted. Someone has deliberately chosen to be violent toward someone else; to not get consent. Nobody asks to be assaulted. Ever. No mode of dress, no amount of alcohol or drugs ingested, no matter what the relationship is between the survivor and the perpetrator or what the survivor's occupation is, sexual assault is always wrong.
Sexual assault only happens to women Not true. The majority of sexual assaults are committed against women by men, but people of all genders, from all backgrounds have been/can be assaulted.
If the person who experienced sexual assault got aroused or got an erection or ejaculated, they must have enjoyed it. It is normal to react to physical stimulation. Just because the person became physically aroused does not mean that they liked it, wanted it, or consented in any way. If they experienced some physical pleasure, this does not take away the fact that sexual abuse happened or from the effects or feelings of abuse.

*Adapted from the Colleges Ontario draft sexual assault and sexual violence policy and protocol template.

Want to learn more? Read additional statistics and information.

Sexual Assault Statistics

Offenders

  • Males are the majority of perpetrators in all sexual assaults (Scarce, 1997).
  • It is estimated that five percent of sexual assaults against females and 20% of sexual assaults against males are committed by females (Finkelhor and Russell, 1984).
  • The majority (88%) of perpetrators in male sexual assaults are straight men (Hodge and Canter, 1998).

Prevalence

  • National statistics report that one in three females and one in six males will experience sexual assault at some point in their life (Statistics Canada, 2006).
  • It is estimated that one in two girls and one in three males will be sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 16 (Badgley, 1984).
  • In over 75% of child sexual abuse incidences, the abuse is committed by a family member or someone well known to the child (Badgley, 1984).
  • Across Canada, 82% of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows (Statistics Canada, 2008).
  • Alcohol is the most common rape drug used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults (ElSohly, 1999; LoVerso, 2001).

Reporting

  • About one in 10 sexual assaults are reported to police (General Social Survey on Vicitimization, 2004).
  • Only one percent of acquaintance sexual assaults are reported to the police (Russell, 1984).
  • It is estimated that over 80% of survivors who are sexually assaulted do not report due to feelings of shame and humiliation or fear of revictimization through the criminal trial process (Fassel, 1994).
  • In fall 2010, a local project was created in which a person can anonymously submit a sexual assault or abuse experience, as an opportunity to voice what is usually silenced.
    See our handout on reporting.

Sexual Assault on Campus

  • 15 to 25% of female students1 and 6.1% of male students2 in college and university experience some form of sexual assault (1 Ontario Women's Directorate, 2013 and 2 Krebs et al, 2007).
  • The risk for sexual assault is four times higher for women aged 16 - 24 than any other population group (Warsaw, 1988).]