What is Sexual Assault?

Any form of sexual contact where one of the people involved did not consent to the contact is classified as sexual assault. In some cases, such as those involving children, the person being assaulted doesn't know or understand what is happening. In other cases, the person being assaulted may know and understand what is happening, but may be too afraid to object. In either case, because they did not consent to what happened, that makes it sexual assault.

People who commit sexual abuse can be very close to the person they abused, such as family members, caregivers, or coaches. They may have a professional relationship with the person they assault, such as clergy, doctors, teachers, or other professionals. The law takes an especially dim view of people who take advantage of their position of trust to commit sexual assault. Then again, abusers may be complete strangers.

Sexual abuse is a traumatic event that may sometimes continue for years. Survivors can be left traumatized, sometimes to the point of not being able to live a normal life. In some cases, the perpetrator is charged with a criminal offence and goes to jail. In others, the attacker is never brought to justice. And in some cases—even many years after the abuse—survivors sue their attackers in civil (as opposed to criminal) court.


  • One in three Canadian adults suffered abuse as a child
  • One in three women and one in six men in Canada will be sexually assaulted before age 18
  • 69% of sexual abuse cases involve girls and 31% involve boys
  • 80% of sexual assaults occur in the home
  • It is estimated that only six in every 100 incidents of sexual assault are reported to the police
  • Over half of all sexual offenders are married or in long-term relationships
  • 80% of child abusers are the victims’ fathers, foster fathers, stepfathers or other relative/close family friend
  • 80% of prostitutes and young offenders were sexually abused as children
  • 50% of all child sexual abuse images (child pornography) are made by a family member
  • There are over 100,000 websites containing thousands of images of child abuse
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