Sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence can result in sexual problems, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem later in life. These problems are even more evident in children or teens who are abused by a family member, when the abuse is frequent or spread out over a long period of time, and when the activity involves penetration. Sexual abuse can make a teen feel alone, worthless and scared. Many cases are never reported, particularly those that involve a family member. But you’re strong and you’re loved. Remember this, and do what you can to take yourself out of a bad situation. Talk to someone you trust, like your school’s guidance counselor. Together, you can find a way to feel safe and be happy. Your body belongs to YOU, and no one else should be allowed to have control over it.
Sexual assault, including rape, can victimize both guys and girls. Emotional reactions are generally severe, and many assaulted girls continue to experience fear, anxiety and sexual problems in the future. Statistics Canada reported in 1994 that “date rape” is much more frequent than sexual assault by a stranger. Make sure that you always feel in control of a situation, and if you don’t, GET OUT. You don’t have to go drink at that college party, and you don’t have to go park with your boyfriend. Choose environments that make you feel comfortable, and where there are lots of people around. You’ll feel better and, chances are, you’ll have a great opportunity to talk and get to know each other.
Sexual assault is any sexual activity without consent, and it is against the law. Sexual violence is not about sex: it is about power. It is most often an issue of men exerting power over women, with some groups of women disproportionately affected. Although it occurs less often, boys and men are also victims of sexual violence, and girls are capable of pressuring boys in dating relationships.
- 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of unwanted sexual contact before the age of 18.
- Only 6% of sexual assaults are reported to the police.
- The victim knows the offender 85% of the time.
- 57% of rapes occur on a date.
- 49% of rape victims are 16 or under.
- Girls and women with disabilities are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted.
- Men commit 99% of all sexual assaults.
If someone discloses abuse to you:
- Thank her/him for confiding in you, and acknowledge how hard it must be to talk about the abuse.
- Tell them you believe them. It is important for someone who has been abused to have people believe what has happened. Most people do not lie about being abused or assaulted.
- Support her/his feelings by saying things like: “It sounds like it was really scary” or “I understand why you feel so terrible.”
- Tell them that it wasn’t their fault. The only person to blame is the offender.
- Inform her/him of your legal obligation to report (see box below).
- Refer her/him to services in your community (e.g. sexual assault centre).
If you know or suspect that someone under 16 is being, or is likely to be, neglected or emotionally, physically, or sexually abused, you have a legal obligation to report it to the Ministry of Children and Families or Child Protection Office in your province.
If someone discloses abusive behaviour to you:
- Support change in their behaviour.
- Speak out and address abusive comments.
- Help him/her understand that s/he is the only one responsible for the violence, even if his/her partner is responsible for other problems in the relationship. Violence is learned behaviour and can be unlearned.
- Encourage him/her to seek help in a counselling program. The violence will not stop on its own.
Sexual Assault: The Law
Level 1 – Sexual Assault
It is a crime if someone forces any form of sexual activity on someone else (e.g. kissing, fondling, touching, sexual intercourse, etc.) without that person’s consent.
Level 2 – Sexual Assault with a Weapon
It is a crime if, during a sexual assault
- the attacker either uses a weapon or threatens to use a weapon (imitation or real)
- the attacker causes bodily harm to the victim
- the attacker threatens to harm a person other than the victim
- more than one person assaults the victim in the same incident
Level 3 – Aggravated Sexual Assault
It is a crime if, while committing a sexual assault, the attacker
- wounds, maims, disfigures, or brutally beats the victim
- endangers the life of the victim.
Sexual Interference (against children under 14)
It is a crime if someone, for a sexual purpose, touches any part of the body of a child (under the age of 14).
Invitation to Sexual Touching (against children under 14)
It is a crime if someone, for a sexual purpose, encourages a child to touch them with any part of the child’s body or with an object.
Invitation to Sexual Touching (against children 14-17)
It is a crime if someone who is in a position of trust or authority towards a young person (someone between the ages of 14 and 17) or a person with whom the young person is in a relationship of dependency (guardian, foster-parent, parent) commits the offence of “sexual interference” or “invitation to sexual touching” described above.
It is a crime if a blood relation has sexual intercourse with another blood relation (e.g. parent, brother, half-brother, sister, grandparent, etc.).
It is a crime if someone, for a sexual purpose, exposes his or her genitals to a person who is under the age of 14. (If this happens to someone over the age of 14, it is only against the law if it happens in a public place.)
Offence in Relation to Juvenile Prostitution
It is a crime if someone buys or attempts to buy the sexual services of a person who is under the age of 18.
1. Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) (1998) Preventing Sexual Assault. Toronto: Author.
2. Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre (1994) Today’s Talk About Sexual Violence: A Booklet for Teens. Victoria: Author.
3. Education Wife Assault (1993) Preventing Violence in Dating Relationships: A Teaching Guide. Toronto: Author.
Provided by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada / La Société des obstétriciens et gynécologues du Canada