What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence refers to any sexual act that happens without consent, including threats or attempts to obtain sex or unwanted sexual comments or advances. Sexual violence can come from any person, regardless of their relationship to the victim/survivor or the setting they’re in.
And it’s not just physical. It’s important to remember that sexual violence can describe a range of actions, including:
- catcalling and whistling
- sharing of intimate photos without permission
- unwanted kissing and touching
- threatening someone to get sex
- sexual assault
While not all sexual violence is physical, any sexual touching without consent is a crime.
What is consent?
Consent is the voluntary agreement to do a particular sexual activity at a particular time — and it only applies to that activity at that time. It’s not just about saying yes or no once: Anything new or later means getting consent again. Everyone involved must actively, willingly, and continuously give consent to the sexual activity.
In Canada, a person must be at least 16 years old to be able to legally consent to sexual activity. For more detailed information, visit Age of Consent to Sexual Activtity (Department of Justice Canada).
What does consent look like?
For sex to be great, is has to be great for both people involved, which means communication, respect and meaningful consent. For consent to be meaningful, it must be:
- Given freely and enthusiastically. If someone is pressured or coerced into doing something, that is not consent. “No” always means “no” and needs to be respected.
- Ongoing. People can change their minds at any time during a sexual encounter — and if they do, it’s time to stop. Ongoing consent means ongoing communication. If you’re unsure how your partner is feeling, stop what you’re doing and ask.
- Specific and needed for every activity. Just because someone consents to one sexual activity doesn’t mean they’re consenting to another. Ask for every activity.
- Informed. There is no such thing as consent without all the information. Consent must be given honestly without lies, manipulation or tricks between the individuals.
How can I help someone who has experienced sexual violence?
If it happens to you:
- Call 911 if you’re in immediate danger. If 911 isn’t available where you are, call your local police.
- Seek medical attention if needed. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, consider seeking medical attention. Not all injuries are visible. You can also ask about emergency contraception, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, and pregnancy testing.
- Find a support service. 24/7 phone or chat support is available. Learn where to get help
- Get support from family and friends. Reach out to someone you trust and who can support you.
- Remember: What happened is not your fault, no matter what you were wearing, doing, or saying at the time.
If it happens to someone you know:
- Listen to them. Don’t interrupt. People need time to process an overwhelming situation. Moments of silence are okay.
- Believe them. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, and it is never the victim/survivor’s fault. Avoid “why” questions that can imply the violence was their fault.
- Provide information, not advice. Everyone’s situation is different, and people need to do what’s best for them. Offer resources rather than next steps.
True or false?
Do you know what meaningful consent looks like? Read the scenarios below and see whether the statements are true or false.
If a person doesn't physically resist sex, they have given consent.
False. This is not true consent. A lack of “no” doesn’t mean that someone is agreeing to sex — there has to be ongoing and enthusiastic participation by both people.
If your long-term partner agreed to sex one night, they are automatically agreeing to it the next night.
False. You need to get consent for every specific sexual activity, with every partner, every time. No exceptions. Communication is important and can make the sexual activity even better.
If the person you are with is passed out, it’s okay to have sex with them.
False. Consent cannot be assumed or implied, and an unconscious person is not capable of giving consent. Even if this person is your long-term partner, there is no consent.
If the person you are with agrees to sex with a condom and then you take it off without them knowing, there was no consent.
True. Your partner agreed to one act, and sex without a condom is another. They have been tricked and could not give informed consent.
If your coach has sex with you, there is no consent.
True — there is no consent here. When there is an imbalance of power in a relationship, the consent is never, ever there. A coach is only one example of someone in a position of trust and authority. Other examples include teachers, adult family members, leaders in faith communities, or caregivers.
If you or someone you know is experiencing gender-based violence, help is available.
If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local law enforcement.
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