Understanding Sexual Violence
Quick Escape

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is any violence - physical, emotional or psychological - thought to be of a sexual nature, which is unwanted and takes place without consent, permission or understanding. Sexual violence has a strong negative effect on physical and mental health.

Sexual violence can take many forms and includes a range of harmful attitudes and behaviours. It can include gender stereotypes, sexist jokes, sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic abuse, stalking, indecent or sexualized exposure, degrading sexual pictures or drawings, voyeurism, sexual trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Engaging in, or condoning or excusing, any of these attitudes or behaviours, allows the violence to continue.

Language matters when talking about sexual violence.

Sexual violence is never acceptable.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is one form of sexual violence. It involves any unwanted sexual activity.

If someone grabs your breasts, genitals or bum without permission or consent, it is sexual assault. If someone forces you to kiss or touch them; to have anal, oral or vaginal intercourse; or to participate in any other type of sexual activity without your permission or consent, it is sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a crime.

What is the legal definition of sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a criminal offence under The Criminal Code of Canada. The Criminal Code includes sexual assault in the definition of assault, and it provides a specific punishment for sexual assault. The Supreme Court of Canada further defined sexual assault as an assault of a sexual nature such that the sexual integrity of the person (victim) is violated. It is committed without the consent of the victim.

In The Criminal Code there are different sexual assault offences, depending on the circumstances of each case.

Sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature in which the sexual integrity of the victim is violated.

Sexual assault With a Weapon/Threats to a Third Party/Causing Bodily Harm

This offence occurs when a person, in committing a sexual assault:

  • Carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation of a weapon;
  • Threatens to cause bodily harm to a person other than the victim;
  • Causes bodily harm to the victim; or
  • Is a party to the offence with any other person.

Aggravated Sexual Assault

This offence occurs when a person, in committing a sexual assault, wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the victim.

Note: there are other sexual assault offences in The Criminal Code of Canada that relate specifically to specialized groups of victims - such as children and persons with disabilities. 

For example, for offences relating to children, please see, Sexual Interference, Invitation to Sexual Touching, Sexual ExploitationIncest, Child Pornography, and Luring a Child.  For offences relating to persons with disabilities - see also Sexual Exploitation of Person with Disability.

Please note that this information is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice and information, please consult a lawyer.  The Edmonton Police Service’s website also has more explanation about defining sexual assault under the law.

What is stalking?

Stalking is a crime called criminal harassment. Stalking consists of repeated behaviour that is carried out over a period of time, and which causes you to reasonably fear for your safety, or the safety of someone known to you.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is any uninvited and unwanted comments, gestures and/or actions that are directed at you because of your actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation. It can happen anywhere - in the street, online, at work, at the grocery store, at the bank, at the doctor's, and so on- in public or private.

The unwanted behaviour may be physical, verbal, written or electronic. It may include one or more of the following:

  • whistling, staring, making sexual comments
  • demands for sexual favours in return for the promise of a reward or the threat of punishment
  • unwelcome remarks or jokes about one's gender or sexuality
  • the display of disrespectful or rude materials such as pictures, cartoons or other printed materials

Sexual harassment can take place at home, online, in a workplace, on the street or in public.

If you have been sexually harassed, you have options. In some cases, sexual harassment is a crime. It is a crime if the harassment involves attempted or actual physical assault, including sexual assault or threats of an assault.

Sexual harassment is addressed by The Human Rights Code (Manitoba) in the areas of employment, housing and services. If you believe you have been sexually harassed, please contact the police or the RCMP.

If you have been sexually harassed at your workplace:

  • report the harassment to someone in authority, a union representative or a trusted workplace colleague and keep notes on what you heard or saw
  • check your organization's harassment prevention policies and complaint resolution procedures

Employers shall not discriminate against a worker who has raised a safety or health concern in the workplace. You have the right to file a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and exercise any other legal rights.

As an employer, manager, or supervisor:

  • know the law, including your responsibilities for protecting employees from harassment and violence
  • lead by example - make a clear statement that harassment and other forms of violence are not tolerated in the workplace
  • ensure your employees know what to do when they may have come into harm's way
  • deal with harassment and violence allegations seriously, quickly and confidentially

See the Preventing Harassment in the Workplace Guide, Guide for Preventing Violence in the Workplace and Family Violence in the Workplace: An Employer's Toolkit.