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Sexual Assault

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What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is an act of power and domination of a criminal nature.

It is a dehumanizing experience and a profound violation of a human being. Some victims state that the assault changed them and took something fundamental away. Instead of considering them as individuals deserving of respect, their assailants reduced them to the status of sexual objects, using them as if they were things.

Sexual assault is an act that is sexual in nature, with or without physical contact, committed by an individual without the consent of the victim or in some cases through emotional manipulation or blackmail, especially when children are involved. It is an act that subjects another person to the perpetrator’s desires through an abuse of power and/or the use of force or coercion, accompanied by implicit or explicit threats.

Sexual assault occurs when an act that is sexual in nature is committed without the consent of the person who is subjected to it, regardless of the age, sex, culture, religion or sexual orientation of the perpetrator or the victim, and regardless of the relationship between the two.

In the case of children, the term usually used is sexual abuse. It often involves a situation in which an adult uses his position of authority to obtain sexual gratification. Kissing, fondling, touching or penetration may be involved. Incest occurs when the abuser is directly related to the victim (father, grandfather, brother, etc.).

A wide variety of terms are used to define sexual assault, including rape, sexual contact, sex offence, crime of a sexual nature, sexual abuse, incest, sexual harassment, exhibitionism/voyeurism, prostitution and child pornography.

Examples of Situations

  • A boy pressures his new girlfriend into sexual contact from the very beginning of their relationship.
  • While on a date, a young man gets a girl drunk so that he can take advantage of her later on.
  • A coach makes it understood to a young player that he will be sidelined if he refuses to let the coach do what he wants to him.
  • An uncle constantly insists that his niece sit on his lap and touches her more and more intimately every time.
  • A man breaks into a woman’s apartment knowing that she is alone and forces her to have sex with him.
  • An employer makes frequent comments with sexual undertones to an employee and become increasingly forward.


Most victims of sexual assault are women and children. In fact, 85% of all sexual assault victims are female and 62% are youth. Although sexual assault victims are found in all age groups, women aged 18 to 24 are most likely to be assaulted. Among children under 12, 31% of victims are boys.

Most victims know their assailants. In 76% of sexual assault cases reported in 2001, the victim was in the immediate circle of the suspected assailant. The perpetrator may be a family member, friend, neighbour, coworker or acquaintance. He may also be a spouse or boyfriend, or former spouse or boyfriend.


Even without physical violence, sexual assault leaves scars that heal slowly. The severity of the harm varies from one person to another and according to the type of assault and the circumstances. The consequences manifest themselves in health problems and psychological difficulties. Children may feel betrayed when the abuse occurs within the family setting.

The following are the most common consequences observed in:

  • young children and teenagers:
    • feelings of fear, betrayal and guilt
    • anxiety, depression
    • low self-esteem, anger
    • insomnia, nightmares
    • attention disorders, school-related problems
    • inappropriate sexual behaviour based on the child’s age or level of development
    • behavioural problems
    • running away from home, prostitution
    • delinquency, alcohol or drug abuse
    • eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, etc.)
  • adult victims (80% of reported victims are women):
    • fear of retaliation by perpetrator
    • depression, anxiety
    • feelings of betrayal, guilt, shame
    • insomnia, nightmares
    • low self-esteem, anger
    • sexual problems
    • suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide
    • alcohol or drug abuse
    • sexually transmitted infections (STIs, AIDS, etc.)
    • loss of productivity at work
    • withdrawal from social life, etc.

Some of the consequences (fear of the perpetrator, of retaliation, of the reaction of parents and family members; feelings of guilt, shame, etc.) may cause the victim to refuse to talk about the attack.

However, breaking the silence can alleviate the effects of sexual assault. It is therefore important to talk about it with someone.

Visit www.agressionsexuelle.com (in French only) for additional information.

The Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux has also conducted other public communication campaigns in support of its policies:


Several resources are available to help sexual assault victims as well as perpetrators, but they may vary from one region to another. Contact your local CLSC to find out what resources are available in your area.

For sexual assault victims:

For sexual assault perpetrators:

Government Policies

The Québec Government has adopted policy objectives and supported various initiatives to help sexual assault victims. In 2001, the Orientations gouvernementales en matière d’agression sexuelle (government policies with respect to sexual assault) and the related Plan d’action (action plan) were released, thereby setting out priorities to counter this problem. With regards to children, the Multi-sectoral Agreement concerning children who are victims of sexual abuse or physical ill-treatment, or whose physical health is threatened by the lack of appropriate care was developed to provide better protection and the necessary support to children who have been sexually abused or victims of mistreatment and gross negligence.

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