How Do I Know If I Have Been Sexually Assaulted?

Legal Definitions

The following terms are defined in accordance to Section 265 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Sexual Assault: If someone has kissed you, fondled you, had vaginal, anal, or oral sex with you without your consent, it is sexual assault. No sign of physical injury or abuse is required to charge someone with sexual assault.

Sexual Assault with a Weapon: A person may be charged with sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party, or causing bodily harm if:

  • A weapon (an imitation or a real weapon) is used during the assault or someone threatens to use a weapon
  • Someone threatens to hurt someone else (e.g., the assaulted person’s child or friend)
  • Someone physically hurts another person
  • Someone was with another person or other people who sexually assaulted someone

Aggravated sexual assault: a person may be charged with aggravated sexual assault if, while sexually assaulting someone, they also:

  • Wounded, disabled, disfigured or brutally beat someone;
  • Endangered someone’s life

Please go to the Department of Justice website for legal definitions related to the sexual abuse of children under 18 such as sexual interference, incest, sexual exploitation, and more.

It is okay if you are still confused about whether or not you have experienced sexual assault, even after reading these legal definitions. Your experiences may not be accurately reflected in the definitions above. This doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t experienced sexual assault or another form of sexual violence such as criminal harassment, human trafficking, or female genital mutilation.

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Sex Work and Sexual Violence

It is often questioned if someone who works in a sex trade can be the victim of sexual violence. At the Durham Rape Crisis Centre, we believe that everyone regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, lifestyle, or choice of work has a right to live a life free of sexual violence.

Sex workers, just like any other person, can and are the victims of sexual violence. As a sex worker, you deserve to be treated like any other victim/survivor of a violent crime, and treated with respect and dignity in a non-judgemental supportive environment.

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Sexual Assault Within Intimate Relationships

Many people question if they can be the victims of sexual violence if the perpetrator is someone that they are/have been in an intimate relationship with. Just like any other person, you have the right to make decisions for yourself without the threat of violence, manipulation, or coercion, regardless of whether or not the perpetrator is your spouse, partner, or significant other.

Regardless of any current or previous relationship to the perpetrator, you have the right to say no. If you are forced or coerced into doing something that you are not comfortable with or do not want to do, this is sexual assault.

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Consent is Not Just About Saying No

The definition of consent is the voluntary agreement of the victim to engage in the sexual activity in question.

There is no consent when:

  • The victim/survivor submits because of threats or force
  • The victim/survivor submits due to the threat of violence or force towards a third party
  • A third party speaks on behalf of the victim/survivor
  • The victim/survivor is incapable of consenting to the activity in question
  • The victim/survivor is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and is not able to consent
  • The victim/survivor engages in sexual activity because the accused induces them by abusing a position of trust, power, or authority
  • The victim/survivor expresses in words or conduct a lack of agreement or consent
  • The victim/survivor having consented expresses by words, gestures or conducts that they do not wish to continue with the activity in question
  • Children under the age of 14 are deemed incapable of consenting to sexual activity with adults

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You Have the Right to Change Your Mind

The Durham Rape Crisis Centre believes that everyone has the right to control their own bodies and choices regardless of past or current behaviour.

Even if you have consented to sexual activity, you have the right to change your mind. If you have expressed by words, gestures, or conduct that you do not want to continue, any and all sexual activity should stop.

No one has the right to make these choices for you.

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Does Age Make a Difference?

Understanding or identifying sexual abuse can be both frightening and confusing for individuals at any age. “Sexual abuse” is often used to describe abuse that is or has been going on for a period of time, whereas “sexual assault” is often used to describe a single incident. Sexual abuse and exploitation are perpetrated on people of all ages, and includes undesirable physical contact (e.g., fondling, penetration, coercion to perform acts on someone else, and/or prostitution), as well as undesirable non-physical contact (e.g., sexual comments, exposure of intimate body parts, voyeurism, showing pornography, engaging in sexually obscene correspondence through the Internet, luring, verbal or emotional abuse that is sexual in nature, and/or making sexually obscene phone calls). All of these acts are crimes and all sexual activity without consent, regardless of age, is a criminal offence.

Age of Consent

In Canada, governmental policies around sexual abuse have been incorporated to assist with the protection of our children and youth; for example, the age of consent. As stated by the Department Justice of Canada, “The age of consent… refers to the age at which a young person can legally consent to sexual activity… The age of consent laws apply to all forms of sexual activity, ranging from sexual touching (e.g., kissing) to sexual intercourse. The age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years… However, the age of consent is 18 years where the sexual activity ‘exploits’ the young person – when it involves prostitution, pornography, or occurs in a relationship of authority, trust, or dependency, such as with a teacher, religious leader, coach, babysitter, and so forth.” Sexual activity can also be considered exploitative of children/youth based on the nature and circumstances of the relationship. For example, if the relationship developed quickly, secretly, or over the Internet; if the partner may have controlled or influenced the young person through coercion or manipulation; and/or if the age difference between the young person and their partner exceeds a certain number of years (i.e., there must be less than 2 years difference if the young person is under the age of 14 years; and less than 5 years difference if the young person is between the age of 14-15 years).

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Is it Normal or is it Abuse?

While sexuality is a normal part of human development and expression, it is important to understand which behaviours are considered to be healthy and age-appropriate during early developmental stages. Sexual experimentation is common during childhood and curious questioning is expected in accordance with a child or youth’s developmental age. However, a child’s interest and involvement with sexuality is balanced with healthy interests in other aspects of their life as well. Sexual curiosity involving others is considered “normal” when the acts are voluntarily engaged in between individuals of similar age, size, strength, and power. If sexual activity occurs under circumstances of coercion, manipulation, authority, or family involvement of any sort, it is considered to be abusive.

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