Adult sexual assault

Sexual assault is any form of unwanted sexual activity that is forced upon a person without that person’s consent. Sexual assault can range from unwanted sexual touching to forced intercourse. While most sexual assaults are perpetrated against women, both women and men can and are sexually assaulted.

The Criminal Code of Canada recognizes that individuals cannot always speak up and say no. She or he may be disabled, intoxicated, intimidated or coerced into agreeing to sexual activity. If the assailant used force, threats, or lied about their actions, the courts can decide that consent was not freely given.

The definition of consent as it relates to sexual assault is found in section 153(2) and (3) of the Criminal Code of Canada.1

According to the law, there is no consent in any of the following situations.

  1. the agreement is expressed by the words or conduct of a person other than the complainant;
  2. the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity;
  3. the accused counsels or incites the complainant to engage in the activity by abusing a position of trust, power or authority;
  4. the complainant expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to engage in the activity; or
  5. the complainant, having consented to engage in sexual activity, expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to continue to engage in the activity.2

Offences related to sexual assault include: sexual assault; sexual assault with a weapon; threats to a third party or causing bodily harm; and aggravated sexual assault.

Certain situations can magnify the gravity of a sexual assault, such as when the assailant is in a position of trust or authority over the individual, when there is excessive violence or multiple assailants involved, or when physical harm or injury results.

Sexual assault of women

Sexual assault of women is far more prevalent than sexual assault of men, with almost 40 percent of women reporting having been sexually assaulted at least once since they turned sixteen.3

Women make up more than three-quarters of all reported sexual assaults, with young women between the ages of 15 and 25 making up more than half of that number. The majority of reported sexual assaults on women are perpetrated by men with whom they were acquainted.4

Possible physical and emotional health effects on women

Possible health effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical injuries
  • Unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares and insomnia
  • Depression, mood swings, anxiety
  • Anger, fear, inability to trust
  • Addiction issues

Sexual assault of men

It is estimated that one in ten adult men will be the victim of a sexual assault.5 Although the rates of sexual assault for men are much lower than women, the effects are no less devastating.

Although a man can be sexually assaulted by a woman, the majority of men are assaulted by other men with whom they are acquainted.6

Even today, there are still very strong traditional expectations regarding gender roles, resulting in a level of societal denial about men being sexually assaulted. Many still hold the belief that men can’t be forced into engaging in sexual activity and that any man who “allows” himself to be sexually assaulted is “not a real man.”

The effects of the assault can be magnified if the victim experiences involuntary physiological reactions such as sexual arousal, erection or ejaculation. Physical reactions do not denote consent or enjoyment—they are involuntary and can occur in both men and women.

Possible physical and emotional health effects on men

Possible health effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical injuries
  • Depression, mood swings, anxiety
  • Denial, self-blame
  • Self-destructive behaviour, including aggression and drug and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Questioning one’s own sexual identity


  • Over one-third of Canadian women report having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 16.7
  • Only 8% of sexual assaults are reported to police.8
  • Almost 10% of reported sexual assaults are perpetrated against adult men.9
  • Almost 75% of all sexual assaults are committed by a known assailant.10
  • In 2003, over 60% of all sexual assaults occurred in a residence, 7% in a commercial building and 16% in public areas like parking lots and parks.11


1 Criminal Code, Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada, 2008

2 Criminal Code, Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada, 2008

3 Johnson, H., Measuring Violence Against Women—Statistical Trends 2006, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2006,

4 Kong, R. et al., Sexual Offences in Canada, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2003

5 Ibid.

6 Canadian Crime Statistics 2003, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2004,

7 Measuring Violence Against Women

8 Ibid.

9 Sexual Offences in Canada

10 Canadian Crime Statistics 2003

11 Ibid.