What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence or assault is a criminal offence. When one person forces sexual activity including kissing, fondling, intercourse, oral sex, or anal sex on another, it is sexual assault. Sexual assault sometimes involves physical injury but not always. Not all physical injuries can be seen. It may or may not involve the threat of a weapon (real or intimidation). A person is at higher risk of being assaulted in their own home. The woman often knows the person who assaulted her as an acquaintance, friend, neighbour, date, classmate, co-worker or relative.
Who is Assaulted?
In Canada, sexual violence is widespread. Those most at risk are women, children and Aboriginal people. According to one study, 51% of all Canadian women had experienced at least one incident of sexual violence after the age of 16. A large proportion of sexual violence is also directed at children and youth. In Canada, at least one in four women can expect to be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.
- 51% of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. Close to 60% of these women have survived more than one incident of violence
- 62% of the victims who reported being sexually assaulted in 1998 were under the age of 18
- In 2000, women made up the vast majority of victims of sexual assault (86%) and other types of sexual offences (78%)
- 80% of sexual assaults occur at home; 49% in broad daylight
- In cases reported to police, 80% of sexual assault survivors knew their abusers. About 10% were assaulted by a friend and 41% were assaulted by an acquaintance. 28% were assaulted by a family member, while the remaining 20% were assaulted by a stranger. (Statistics Canada, 2003, The Daily, 23 July)
Why Does it Happen?
Violence is often used by individuals or groups with power to control less powerful and more vulnerable individuals or groups. Assaults often involve a demonstration of power, domination, aggression, and humiliation. Sexual assault is a crime of violence that has nothing to do with sex. We should not be surprised that women are the most common targets for sexual assault, for they have traditionally held less social, economic, and political power than men.
Effects of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault may create emotional and physical health difficulties in someone’s life. A survivor may be feeling overwhelmed by many different emotions, but it is important to know that once they are able to express their feelings with supportive helpers, these emotions will lessen over time. While some survivors may experience all of the reactions described below, others may experience only a few.
Some emotions/feelings survivors may experience are:
- Shock, disbelief, numbness, confusion
- Self-blame, shame, guilt
- Fearfulness, insecurity, nervousness
- Nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, panic
- Sadness, loss, depression
- Loss of trust in self and others
- Feeling a loss of control, powerlessness, helplessness
- Anger, feeling betrayed
Some physical reactions survivors may experience are:
- Changes in eating (loss of appetite, nausea) and sleeping patterns (i.e. nightmares)
- Headaches and fatigue
- Possible symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases or injuries related to the assault
- Body pain (soreness, backache, bruising)
What to Do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted
- Take whatever steps are necessary to make yourself safe.
- Seek medical attention.
- Decide whom you want to tell.
- Do not blame yourself.
- Allow yourself to feel and express the variety of emotions that are commonly experienced.
- Remember that you are not alone. There are many people willing to help you through this.
How to Support People That Have Been Sexually Assaulted
Respect whatever choices they make. It is important that they have control over their own life and the decisions they make.
- Believe them
- Be supportive by listening
- Find out what help is available in your community.
- Provide them with the information and accompany them when they access services