COVID‑19 pandemic: resources are still available
Despite the coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) pandemic, help and resources are still available at all times for sexual assault victims and assailants. Appropriate support that complies with public health recommendations is offered by professionals who are specially trained to provide immediate assistance or information. Do not hesitate to contact them.
Sexual assault is an act of abuse that subjects a person to one’s own sexual desires without having obtained that person’s prior consent.
In some situations, although the perpetrator claims to have obtained their victim’s consent, there is nevertheless a case of sexual assault. For instance:
- if the person did not give their consent at the time
- if the person is a minor (see “legal age of consent”)
- if the person is under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication
- if the person is taken by surprise
- if the person feels frightened
Certainly, sexual assault can be committed through physical contact but, contrary to popular belief, it can also be committed without physical contact. For example, when a person exposes their genitals to another person or they masturbate in front of another person without that person’s consent, this is considered sexual assault. However, for a sexual assault to be deemed a criminal act, it must involve the following elements:
- use of force against a person
- presence of sexual context (as opposed to aggravated or armed assault, or common assault, etc.)
- absence of the person’s consent
Note that is there is no typical profile for victims of sexual assault. Women and children are more likely to experience assault, but men can also be victims.
Forms of sexual assault
Sexual assault can take many forms, with or without contact.
Kissing of a sexual nature:
- on the mouth
- on the buttocks
- on the breasts
- on the genitals
Contact between the mouth or the tongue and private parts:
- cunnilingus (contact with the vulva, the clitoris or the entrance to the vagina)
- fellatio (contact with the penis or the testicles)
- analingus (contact with the anus)
Sexual touching (even over clothing):
- touching the genitals
- touching the buttocks and the thighs
- touching the breasts
- fondling someone’s without their consent
- making someone fondle your genitals without their consent
- Vaginal or anal penetration (rape):
- with a penis
- with fingers
- with objects
Some forms of assault are often trivialized, but they constitute sexual assault in the same way as other forms. This includes:
- sending unsolicited digital images of sexual content, such as photos of private parts (dick pics), videos of a sexual nature (sex tapes), etc.
- harassment (inappropriate comments, forceful advances, vulgar jokes, etc.)
- frottage (the practice of rubbing one’s genitals or breasts against someone, even when wearing clothing)
- exhibitionism (exposing one’s genitals, buttocks or breasts or masturbating in front of someone or in public)
- voyeurism (watching someone during a private moment or attempting to view a person’s private parts, buttocks or breasts)
Types of relationship with a perpetrator
An existing relationship between two individuals can never be used to justify forced sexual favours. This means that no one has the right to coerce anyone to comply with their desires, regardless of the type of relationship they have.
- A partner/spouse cannot force their partner to have sexual relations with them or with someone else, regardless of whether or not they are married and regardless of the pretext (repayment of a debt, acquisition of assets, conjugal duty, etc.).
- A boss cannot demand anything of a sexual nature from an employee, under any pretext (compensation for a mistake or an offence, promotion, salary increase, better working conditions, etc.).
- A parent cannot demand anything of a sexual nature from their child nor allow anyone to profit from their child’s body or ignore any abuse, under any pretext (repayment of a debt, acquisition of assets, etc.).
- A professor or research director cannot demand anything of a sexual nature from a student or an employee, under any pretext (compensation for a mistake or an offence, promise of publication, promotion, salary increase, better working conditions, etc.).
- A sports coach cannot demand anything of a sexual nature from their athletes, under any pretext (compensation for a mistake or an offence, better working conditions, special occasion, etc.).
- A friend (acquaintance, family friend, roommate, neighbour, etc.) cannot demand anything from anyone without first obtaining the person’s consent.
It is important to know that a person who gives in to pressure to take part in a sexual activity has not given their consent. The person may feel surprised, or even stunned, or they may feel frightened, and as a result, it may seem less risky to not resist. When such a situation arises between spouses or partners, it is called “conjugal rape.”
To report or not to report: The important thing is to talk about it
Regardless of their age or social status, victims of sexual assault often experience intense confusion after the event. The emotions they experience are specific to each individual and may be affected by a range of factors, including age, gender and the type of assault they have endured.
However, some of the more common emotions likely to be experienced after assault include confusion, humiliation, shame, rage, sadness, fear and guilt. In addition, since victims usually know their abuser, they may also experience feelings of betrayal, denial and mistrust.
Victims instinctively tend to want to wash, or take a shower or a bath immediately after the event. However, before taking actions that seem natural, it is recommended that they call the provincial helpline for victims of sexual assault, at 1 888 933‑9007. The support person who takes the call will be able to refer victims to regional resources that provide medical and psychosocial support after an assault. Further information is also available, such as details concerning the time limit for taking DNA samples. The important number to keep in mind is 5:
- After an assault, and for 5 days thereafter, it is possible to take DNA samples.
- Once the 5 days following an assault have elapsed, it is no longer possible to take samples, but a medical exam is still recommended. Certain injuries may be observed, and the exam will help determine the state of the victim’s physical and psychological health.
Other reactions are often observed in victims. For example, they may:
- fear the perpetrator or maintain closer contact with the them
- fear the repercussions of reporting the assault
- think that no one will believe them
- believe that they share some responsibility for the assault
- think that reporting the assault would be useless
- not know who to talk to about it
- fear the justice system
In cases of incest (sexual assault between members of the same family), victims may also fear being held responsible for the breakup of the family if they talk about what has happened.
When the victim lives with their abuser and is subjected to sexual violence or conjugal violence, they may fear that they must stay in order to fulfill their commitment as a tenant. However, under such conditions, they can always cancel a lease without penalty. The Éducaloi website provides information on this topic, and the support workers at the Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC) and the centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (sexual assault centres, CALACS) can help you at no charge. If the victim who lives with their abuser is a minor, they must call the Director of Youth Protection (DPJ).
Where to turn?
Sometimes, some victims feel the need to confide in somebody, but they don’t know who to talk to about their assault. In these situations, the best thing to do is to contact the helpline for sexual assault victims at 1 888 933‑9007. Resource persons are there to help.
Just speaking to the person on the helpline may make a big difference. This step is called disclosure of the assault. Afterward, victims may feel better able to talk to a friend or to a family member, or to consult a resource person (health professional, psychologist, other support workers, etc.).
If victims feel unable to talk about it with someone close to them, they can recount their assault in written form and entrust it to a friend. The important thing is not to keep the event secret and to try to write down as many details as possible, for example:
- the date
- the place
- the time the event occurred
- the clothing that the perpetrator was wearing
- the state the perpetrator was in
- words that were spoken
- acts that were committed
- the sounds or conversations coming from another room
- the absence or presence of persons nearby
- any other relevant details
This information could prove useful if the victims decide, several months or years later, to report their assailant to the police.
Reporting an assault
Being sexually assaulted is a very difficult experience, and the idea of reporting the assault to police can initially be frightening for the victim. In fact, it is not uncommon for victims to decide to report their abuser several months, or even several years, after the fact. This is one more reason to talk to someone and to write down the details right after the event.
Reporting a sexual assault involves not only explaining the incident to many strangers, but also having to confront the abuser in court. Furthermore, the perception of victims with regard to the judicial system (the system’s burdensome nature and the low number of convictions of perpetrators) may discourage victims from pursuing the process.
Despite this, reporting an assault can also bring the victim great relief. Indeed, feelings of shame and injustice experienced after the assault can be replaced by feelings of pride and a sense of taking back power over one’s life.
The role of close friends and family
Disclosing or reporting a sexual assault requires victims to have a great deal of courage because they have to relate something so intimate and, in a way, relive the traumatizing event in the process.
If the victim of sexual assault chooses you as a trusted person to listen and accompany them, make sure you:
- stay calm and open-minded
- listen attentively to the recounting of the event
- believe what you are told
- avoid judging
- praise the victim’s courage in talking about the assault
- alleviate any guilt the victim may feel
You can play an important role in the victim’s healing by supporting them and offering to accompany them as they undertake steps to report the perpetrator to the police, should they decide to do so.
Consequences of a sexual assault
Victims of sexual assault may be subjected to a variety of consequences at different points in their life (in the days, months or even years following the assault). The consequences as well as the victim’s reactions stem from a number of factors:
- the victim’s age
- the relationship with the perpetrator
- the type of assault sustained
- the duration and the frequency of the sexual assaults
- the degree of violence used at the time of the sexual assault
- the reactions of those close to the victim when the assault is disclosed
- the help and support available
While every victim experiences the aftermath of a sexual assault in their own way, certain consequences are common among most victims. Here are some examples of frequent consequences:
- anxiety disorders or moments of anxiety
- troubled sleep or nightmares
- memory loss or flashbacks
- sexual difficulties (decreased libido, disgust with sexuality, pain during sexual relations)
- denial (minimization of the impact of the assault or refusal to admit what has happened)
- dissociation or depersonalization (impression of no longer inhabiting one’s body)
- eating disorders
- problems concentrating
- chronic pain
- relationship problems
- sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs) or unwanted pregnancy
- problems with addiction
- financial problems
- conflicting emotions, suicidal ideation, self-harm
Children who are victims of sexual assault, in particular, often tend to adopt precocious sexual behaviours.
Legal age of consent
The concept of consent is at the core of the problem of sexual assault. Without consent, sexual behaviour becomes sexual assault.
To protect children and young adolescents, the Canadian Criminal Code deems that a person under 16 years of age is not able to give consent: 16 years is thus the legal age of consent .
In other words, if a person 16 years of age or older has sexual relations with a person under 16 years of age, they could face sexual assault charges.
However, there are exceptions regarding adolescents who have voluntary and consensual sexual relations with one another based on their age group. Details about age groups and their specific characteristics can be found on the Evaluate the relationship page.
Myths and realities
Several myths persist concerning sexual assault. Here are some examples of myths and realities.
Reality : Actually, studies tend to show that the number of sexual assaults is very high and that the number of reports is rising every year. Although the #MeToo movement might explain the recent increase, it is nevertheless true that sexual assault is quite prevalent. The data for Québec reveals that:
- 1 girl out of 5 is a victim of sexual violence before she reaches age 18
- 1 girl out of 3 is a victim of sexual assault starting from the age of 16
In addition, it is estimated that only about 5% of sexual assaults are reported to authorities.
Reality: The fact that perpetrators are acquitted in no way means that they did not commit an assault. Rather, it means that the current judicial system requires proof “beyond any reasonable doubt” that consent was not given. Proof becomes very difficult to establish since the assault usually occurs at a time when the victim is alone with the perpetrator, away from witnesses.
In addition, only about 3% of reported sexual assaults are revealed to be false allegations.
Reality : The problem of sexual assault is not caused by a problem of sexual appetite. In reality, sexual assault is, above all, a way of exerting control over a person, not a way of satisfying sexual desire. In addition, perpetrators do not systematically derive pleasure during sexual assault.
In the majority of cases, perpetrators of sexual assault are men, but some are women.
Reality : Most perpetrators are ordinary people who plan their crime ahead of time, since they know their victim. Some perpetrators will strongly urge their victim to drink alcohol or take drugs to make them easier to control. Others will instead engage in emotional blackmail to achieve their ends. Perpetrators may also attempt to convince their victim that he or she owes them a debt and that this debt must be “repaid” by agreeing to have sexual relations.
What to do if...
I am a victim
If you need immediate help, dial 9-1-1.
If you need support, listening or counselling services about what steps to take, call the help and resource line for victims of sexual assault at 1-888-933-9007. This helpline is confidential, bilingual and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The support workers who take the call will tell you where you can go to get a medical exam and psychological assistance. The specialized resource persons you meet are there to listen to you, reassure you and answer all your questions.
If you want someone to explain how to report your abuser to the police, contact the DCPP (Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions) at 1-877-547-3727. This line is open Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Young people can also obtain help via live chat or on the phone by contacting Tel-Jeunes:
I am a witness
It is helpful to remember that sexual assault can occur in the form of touching, even over clothing, kissing of a sexual nature, etc. (see the top of this page).
If you witness a sexual assault, intervene. If you witness sexual touching in a bar, a restaurant or other place, you can call out the individual and make them aware of their actions. If you sense there is any danger for yourself or the victim, call 9-1-1 immediately.
I am a close friend or family member of the victim
When a victim of sexual assault confides in you, you have the power to play an important role in the healing process. How you can help:
- Listen to what the person has to tell you
- Help the person to express what they are feeling
- Avoid judging the person
- Believe what the person tells you
- Avoid downplaying or expanding upon the facts: control your reactions
- Support the person and emphasize their strength and courage in talking about the assault
- Show that you are available, whether to talk or to accompany the person in their process
- Help the person to avoid blaming themselves: Explain that it is not their fault
If you have any questions or doubts about how to intervene with a victim of sexual assault, you can turn to a variety of resources for advice:
- Provincial helpline for victims of sexual assault 1-888-933-9007
- Parents line 1-800-361-5085
- Tel-Jeunes text, email or Live chat
- Tel-Jeunes 1-800-263-2266.
I assaulted someone
Recognizing that you have assaulted someone can be a harsh awakening. Perhaps you realized the impact of one or more of your actions after reading this page. For this reason, we invite you to ask questions, find information about all forms of sexual assault and contact the provincial helpline for victims of sexual assault at 1-888-933-9007, toll-free, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Care and services
Designated centres are facilities that provide various medical services and psychological support to victims of sexual assault. These services are provided by a team of social workers, nurses and doctors.
Designated centres are often located in hospitals and are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They assist victims of sexual assault regardless of their age and gender. Waiting time is minimal.
If you’re a victim of sexual assault, you can go to a designated centre whether you have visible physical injuries or not. To find the closest designated centre, contact toll-free helpline for victims of sexual assault (everywhere in Québec: 1‑888‑933‑9007; Montreal region: 514‑933‑9007).
As soon as you arrive at a designated centre, you will be received by a team of professionals trained to assist victims of sexual assault. They are there to support you. You’ll be able to talk, express your needs and feelings and be heard. During this exchange, you will be asked many questions.
After the interview, the team will help you decide what type of examination you should have. Your consent is needed regardless of the examination type.
The medical examination is important to your health and well-being. You can take this exam whether or not you press charges. The examination makes it possible to:
- Check your overall health
- Treat your injuries
- Detect sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs)
- Prevent an unwanted pregnancy
The forensic examination is a medical exam that includes the collection of samples. These samples can be used if you decide to press charges.
The multidisciplinary team will give you psychological support during the entire process at the designated centre.
The team will also offer psychosocial assistance to help you cope with your reactions and the sequels of sexual assault. Your loved ones can also benefit from psychosocial help.
You can also contact one of the following resources:
- Your integrated health and social services centre (CISSS) or integrated university health and social services centre (CIUSSS)
- Your family doctor
To find contact information for your CISSS or CIUSSS, or those of your family-medicine clinic, go to Finding a Resource.
Help and resources
- If you need help immediately, dial 9-1-1.
- Helpline for victims of sexual assault
Free bilingual, anonymous and confidential service, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across Québec
- 1 888 933‑9007
514‑933‑9007 (Montreal region)
- Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC)
Available in all regions of Québec, providing access to trained intervention professionals
- 1 866 532‑2822
Live chat service (from 2:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 7 days a week) and telephone helpline (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
- 1 800 263‑2266
- SOS violence conjugale
- Offers telephone support, psychological support, immediate intervention and referrals to shelters (SOS violence conjugale can make the call for you)
- 1 800 363‑9010
- Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (Sexual Assault Centres, CALACS)
- Offers direct help for women and female adolescents who have been sexually assaulted, as well as telephone support, support groups, accompaniment and support services for victims (police, hospital, etc.) and services for close friends and family members of victims
- 1 877 717‑5252
- The Director of Youth Protection (DPJ)
Possibility of reporting a situation to the DPJ, by telephone or written report, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Contact information for organizations part of the ESPACE Program (families and children)
- Program offering various workshops for children and operating a telephone helpline
- À cœur d’homme
- Offers referral, intervention and counselling services to partners and fathers with violent behaviours
- 1 877 660‑7799
- Helpline for providing information to victims of sexual violence who are considering filing a complaint with the police (Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, DCPP)
- 1 877 547‑3727
- Éducaloi (capsule on sexual consent)
- 1 800 668‑2473
- Media Kit on Sexual Assault
- Lists services available to victims and children exposed to conjugal violence
- Info‑Santé 811
- Free and confidential telephone consultation service with a nurse in case of a non-urgent health issue.
- Info‑Social 811
- Free and confidential telephone consultation service to reach a psychosocial worker.