Sexual violence is an umbrella term that refers to a continuum of psychological or physical actions of a sexual nature that is threatened, attempted or committed towards a person without their consent. It may be directed towards a person’s sexual orientation, sexual or gender expression,or gender identity. It includes sexist, homophobic and/or transphobic jokes, coercion, stalking, voyeurism, cyberviolence, sexual harassment, interpersonal (or intimate partner) violence and sexual assault.
Sexual violence is influenced by intersecting forms of oppression and discrimination, including but not limited to sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism.
If you have experienced sexual violence know that it is not your fault. No one asks for or deserves such violence. Know that you are not alone and that we are here to support you.
Misconceptions downplay the seriousness of sexual assault and sexual harassment and confuse the definition of consent. They contribute to a social atmosphere in which people who are affected by these acts are reluctant to report, either because they fear being blamed for what happened to them (a phenomenon known as "victim blaming"), or not being believed. These misconceptions also shift the responsibility and blame from the perpetrator to the survivor.
The video below was created by Simon Fraser University and addresses the three most common myths about sexual violence.
Fact: A person's outfit or actions are not an invitation to sexual assault or harassment. The only person responsible for a sexual assault or harassment is the person who commits the act. Blaming the survivor is known as victim blaming.
Fact: Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in Canada. Many barriers to reporting exist, including but not limited to: not being believed, feeling humiliated, fear of retaliation by the offender and of re-victimization in the legal process, fear of reaction by their social networks. It is important to recognize that every individual affected by sexual assault may choose to report or not. Their decision has no bearing on the truth of their experience.
Fact: Studies show that over 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the person, such as a friend, partner, service provider, neighbour or family member.
If it really happened, the survivor should be able to easily recount all of the facts of their experience.
Fact: Shock, fear, embarrassment and distress can impair memory. Additionally, many people who have experienced a traumatic event actively attempt to minimize or forget the details as a coping technique.
Fact: The reality is that sexual assault is extremely underreported. Most people fear not being believed, shamed, or judged for what has happened to them. From the statistics that are available, malicious accusations of sexual assault happen no more than false reports of other types of crime: about 2% to 4% of the time, which means 96% to 98% of the reports are true. Survivors may recant their statements as a result of fear of retaliation, pressure from the perpetrator, inadequate support or a drawn-out legal process. A recantation does not mean that the survivor lied.
*Brennan, S. & Taylor-Butts, A. (2008). Sexual Assault in Canada, 2004 and 2007. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile, Series 19, 1-20; Statistics Canada, Minister of Industry, June 25, 2014.
Fact: Sexual assault or harassment can have serious effects on a person’s emotional and physical health and well-being. People who have been sexually assaulted or harassed—regardless of the age at which the incident occurred—can experience a wide range of life-changing feelings, including feelings of depression, self-harm, loss of safety and anxiety. They may have flashbacks and nightmares. Sexual assault or harassment affects each individual differently, and recovery can be a slow process.
Fact: Anyone, anywhere can be sexually assaulted or harassed. This misconception perpetuates harmful social norms that make it harder for survivors of sexual assault and harassment to open up about their experience and get help. That being said, some individuals are at greater risk than others of being sexually assaulted or harassed due to their gender, sexual orientation, and/or socio-cultural background. Other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and colonialism, make LGBTQI folks, Indigenous folks, and individuals who have a disability at a greater risk of experiencing sexual violence.
The only way to fully protect yourself is to avoid being alone in deserted places, like alleys, especially at night.
Fact: 80% of reported sexual assaults are committed by someone the person knows, such as a friend, partner, service provider, family member, or acquaintance. Sexual assault most often occurs in a private place, like the residence of the survivor or perpetrator. It can also occur in public places like parties, parks and alleyways.
Fact: One of the biggest misconceptions about sexual assault is that it happens out of sexual desire. Sexual assault is an act of power and control, not sex. Claiming that sexual assault is about sex and not power is a way of making the crime seem less severe and more acceptable. This allows the perpetrator to use the excuse that they simply wanted sex and just “took it too far.”
Fact: Often this is used to silence the survivor. Physical and physiological signs of sexual arousal, including orgasm, vaginal lubrication, erection or ejaculation may result from physical contact or even extreme stress. These responses do not mean that someone wanted or enjoyed the assault.
Fact: Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent through coercion, intimidation, the use of force or threats, choosing to disregard someone’s “No”, not respecting someone’s personal boundaries, and not checking in.
Fact: Just because someone has accepted money or an exchange for a particular sexual act does not mean they have consented to further sexual acts. A sex worker, just like anyone else, always has the right to say no and can retract their consent at any time. Additionally, consent can never be implied or obtained through threats or intimidation.
Fact: People with disabilities have a higher risk than average of experiencing sexual violence, especially women. Those who live with activity limitations are over two times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than those who are able-bodied.
If we allow transgender and gender non-conforming people to use whichever bathroom they feel safest in, sexual assault in bathrooms will increase.
Fact: This misconception is rooted in the false belief that people who are transgender or gender non-conforming are sexual predators. There is absolutely no evidence of this. There are no statistics that support the idea that LGBT individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders than heterosexuals or cis-gendered individuals. Transgender individuals are at higher risk of being victims of sexual violence, with a 2015 survey in the U.S. indicating that 47% had been sexually assaulted.
James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
Myths & Realities: Our Society's Misconceptions (Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services)
Sexual violence: myths versus the facts (Concordia University)