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What is sexual violence?

What is sexual violence? How common is sexual assault and sexual harassment in Canada? What does it mean to give consent?

Find the answers to your questions here.



Consent is an agreement between all participants. It must be mutual, voluntary, informed, and ongoing. One of the most important things you can do is ask for, and ensure you have, your partner’s consent. Anything other than voluntary and continuous agreement to engage in sexual activity is not consent.

See how consent is defined in the Criminal Code of Canada (Section 273.1)  

Sexual assault is any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact. There are a range of behaviors and actions that fall under the definition of sexual assault. Sexual assault is not only unwanted penetration (rape), it is also any unwanted sexual touching, kissing, grabbing etc.

Sexual assault is about the perpetrator exerting power and control – it is not about love, desire, or sexuality. Sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor.

Sexual harassment is a course of unwanted remarks, behaviours, innuendo, taunting or communications of a sexual nature and/or a course of unwanted remarks, behaviours or communications based on gender, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation where the person responsible for the remarks, behaviours or communications knows or ought reasonably to know that these are unwelcome.

Sexual harassment may consist of unwanted attention of a sexual nature such as personal questions about one’s sex life, unwelcome sexual invitations or requests, or unwelcome remarks about someone’s appearance.

Sexual harassment may also consist of unwelcome remarks based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation where such remarks may not be of a sexual nature but are nevertheless demeaning such as derogatory gender based jokes or comments. 

A single serious incidence of such behaviour may constitute harassment if it has the same consequences and if it produces a lasting harmful effect on the survivor.

Sexual violence is any violence, physical or psychological, carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality.

This includes, but is not limited, to sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, degrading sexual imagery, distribution of sexual images or video of a community member without their consent, and cyber harassment or cyber stalking of a sexual nature or related to a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or presentation.

Sexual violence is prevalent and the impacts on survivors, and their communities, are many.  It is estimated that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men, will experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetime. These statistics only give us part of the picture; because of the barriers that various forms of oppression create within our communities and institutions, we have limited data on the many other individuals that experience high rates of sexual violence, for example individuals who are transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, aboriginal, people of color and people living with disabilities.

Concordia has a permanent Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence to help identify and respond to cases of sexual misconduct. It is made up of students, faculty and staff. Members of the committee can reached at To help identify cases of sexual misconduct involving members of the Concordia community, people can also turn to the Office of Rights and Responsibilities.

Concordia is committed to promoting a respectful, safe and supportive environment for all students, faculty, researchers and staff.


  • Across Canada, 82 per cent of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows.1
  • In Quebec, in 98 per cent of reported cases, the perpetrator was male.2
  • 70% of sexual assault survivors were assaulted in a private residence.3


1Statistics Canada, 2008
2 Government of Quebec, 2008 report, Statistiques sur les agressions sexuelles au Québec and the 2001 Action Plan for the setting up of governmental guidelines in the matters of sexual aggression
3Statistics Canada – no. 85-002-XIF, Catalogue, VOl. 26, No. 3 (2006).

  • 1 in 3 women, 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.1
  • Male survivors will most often have experienced sexual violence in childhood, rates are highest between age 3-14.2
  • Women experience sexual violence throughout their lifespan, with high rates between the ages of 18-24.3
  • High rates of sexual violence are also experienced by Aboriginal women, women with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.4


1 Statistics Canada, 2006
2, 3, 4 Statistics Canada, 2008

According to Statistics Canada’s 2004 General Social Survey (GSS):

  • About one in 10 sexual assaults is reported to police.
  • There were about 512,000 incidents of sexual assault, representing a rate of 1,977 incidents per 100,000 population aged 15 and older (2004 data).
  • Given that most sexual assaults go unreported, police-reported sexual assault counts are notably lower, with about 24,200 sexual offences recorded by police in 2007.
  • Survivor data indicate that most sexual assaults involved unwanted sexual touching (81%).
  • While few sexual assault survivors filed formal reports with police, most (72%) confided in friends and many turned to family (41%) and other informal sources of support.
  • Similar to survivors of other forms of violent crime, sexual assault survivors commonly experienced anger, confusion and frustration as a result of their assault.

  • Most sexual assaults happen in the first eight weeks of classes.1
  • 50% of sexual violence cases on campus involved alcohol or other substances.2
  • 15 to 25% of female students3, 6.1% of male students4, and 24% of transgender, genderqueer and questioning students5 in college and university experience some form of sexual assault.
  • Women who are the most vulnerable to sexual violence: women who are immigrants, visible minorities, Aboriginal and those who have a mental health condition or are disabled are 4 times at risk of sexual violence.


1Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire (2016), Le harcèlement et les violences à caractère sexuel dans le milieu universitaire, Rapport du Groupe de travail sur les politiques et procédures en matière de harcèlement et de violence sexuelle, p. 24

2 University of Ottawa (2015). Report of Working Group; ABBEY et al. (2001); Cited in Intervening against sexual violence, Resource Guide for Colleges and Universities in Ontario (2013); Report from the President’s Council (2013). Promoting a culture of safety, respect and consent at St. Mary’s University and beyond.

3Developing a Response to Sexual Violence: A Resource Guide for Ontario’s Colleges and Universities, Ontario Women’s Directorate, 2013

4 Krebs, C.P., Lindquist, C.H., Warner, T.D., Fisher, B.S., & Martin, S.L. (2007). The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice

5 Cantor, D., Fisher, B., et al. (2015). Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Rockville, Maryland: The Association of American Universities.

6Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire (2016), Le harcèlement et les violences à caractère sexuel dans le milieu universitaire, Rapport du Groupe de travail sur les politiques et procédures en matière de harcèlement et de violence sexuelle, p. 25

Myths vs. facts

Myth: Sexual assault can’t happen to me or anyone I know.

Fact: Sexual assault can and does happen to anyone. People of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds are survivors  of sexual assault. Young women, Aboriginal women and women with disabilities are at greater risk of experiencing sexual assault.

Myth: Sexual assault is most often committed by strangers.

Fact: Someone known to the survivor, including acquaintances, dating partners, and common-law or married partners, commit approximately 82 per cent of sexual assaults.1

Myth: Sexual assault is most likely to happen outside in dark, dangerous places.

Fact: The majority of sexual assaults happen in a private home or apartment.

Myth: If a person who was sexually assaulted doesn’t report to the police, it wasn’t sexual assault.

Fact: Just because a survivor  doesn’t report the assault doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Fewer than one in 10  survivors  report the crime to the police.2

Myth: It’s not a big deal to have sex with someone while they are drunk, stoned or passed out.

Fact: 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.

Myth: If the person who was sexually assaulted didn’t scream or fight back, it probably wasn’t sexual assault.

Fact: When someone 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 this person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they may be incapacitated or unable to resist.

Myth: If a person who experienced sexual assault isn’t crying or visibly upset, it probably wasn’t a serious sexual assault.

Fact: Everyone responds to the trauma of sexual assault differently. Some people may cry or they may be calm. They may be silent or very angry. One’s behaviour is not an indicator of their experience. It is important not to judge a person by how they respond to a sexual assault.

Myth: If a person does not have obvious physical injuries, like cuts or bruises, they probably were not sexually assaulted.

Fact: 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 who was sexually assaulted may have been unconscious or been otherwise incapacitated.

Myth: If it really happened, the person would be able to easily recount all the facts in the proper order.

Fact: 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.

Myth: Individuals lie and make up stories about being sexually assaulted.

Fact: 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 individuals prefer not to report.

Myth: It wasn’t rape, so it wasn’t sexual violence.

Fact: Any unwanted sexual contact is considered to be sexual violence. A survivor can be severely affected by all forms of sexual violence, including unwanted fondling, rubbing, kissing, or other sexual acts. Many forms of sexual violence involve no physical contact, such as stalking or distributing intimate visual recordings. All of these acts are serious and can be damaging.

Myth: Individuals  with disabilities don’t get sexually assaulted.

Fact: 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 be survivors  of sexual assault than those who are able-bodied.3


Ontario Women’s Directorate
1 Brennan & Taylor-Butts, Sexual Assault, 13.
2 Ibid., 8.
3 Statistics Canada, Criminal Victimization and Health: A Profile of Victimizations Among Persons with Activity Limitations or Other Health Problems (Ottawa: 2010), 8.

Sexual Assault Resource Centre

We are open to all Concordia students, staff, and faculty.

Need support or have questions?

Jennifer (JD) Drummond
514-848-2424 ext. 3353

Lindsay Faul
514-848-2424 ext. 7985

Aleesha Simpson
514-848-2424 ext 3017

Mark Underwood
514-848-2424 ext. 5720

Project Coordinator:
Jenna Rose
514-848-2424 ext. 3461

Service Assistant:
Mandy McBain
514-848-2424 ext. 5972

Are you in immediate danger?

On campus
Call Campus Safety and Prevention Services:
514-848-3717 – option 1

Off campus
Call 911 or contact the police
Find your local police station


Sir George Williams Campus
Room LB 720
Library Building 
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

Monday - Friday:
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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