Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact within or outside a relationship. Sexual assault is a crime and is never the fault of the survivor.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact within or outside a relationship

It can include anything from unwanted sexual touching to forced sexual intercourse without a person’s consent, and also includes the threat of sexual contact without consent. Sexual assault is about power and control, not sexual desire.

Learn more about consent

Sexual assault affects people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and racial identities

Anyone can be a perpetrator of violence and anyone can be a survivor or victim.

Most people know the person who assaulted them. They can be someone the survivor knows a little, such as a first date, or very well, such as a good friend, partner or family member. Sexual assault can also occur when someone in a position of power or authority (e.g., teacher or coach) coerces or bribes someone into engaging in sexual activity. Many people do not tell anyone about their assault, or even realize it was an assault, until months or years later. This does not mean that they are lying when they do choose to disclose. There are many myths and social stigmas about sexual assault that often mean people feel that they will not be believed if they tell their story, or feel that it might be their fault in some way.

Sexual assault is a crime and is never the fault of the survivor

Sexual assault is a crime, whatever the past or present relationship between the people involved (married, living together, dating, friends, acquaintances, strangers). No one has the right to threaten or force another person to have sexual contact. No one has the right to abuse a position of trust, power, or authority to get another person to have sex.

15 - 25% of female students1,6.1% of male students2, and 24% of transgender, genderqueer and questioning students3 in college and university experience some form of sexual assault.

1 Developing a Response to Sexual Violence: A Resource Guide for Ontario’s Colleges and Universities, Ontario Women’s Directorate, 2013

2 Krebs, C.P., Lindquist, C.H., Warner, T.D., Fisher, B.S., & Martin, S.L. (2007). The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice

3 Cantor, D., Fisher, B., et al. (2015). Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Rockville, Maryland: The Association of American Universities.

Learn more about consent and healthy relationships

Support for student survivors of sexual assault

If you have been sexually assaulted, know that it is not your fault and that there are options available for you. Some of the first steps to take can include thinking about your safety, This could mean going to a space that feels safer for you, seeking medical attention and seeking support. You may also consider reporting an incident of sexual assault to the university or police. Know that it's okay to ask for help.

If you have experienced sexual assault or any other form of sexual misconduct, have received a disclosure of sexual misconduct, witnessed sexual misconduct or are supporting someone who has experienced sexual misconduct, you can get individualized information, advice and assistance from the link below.

Get sexual assault support

How a survivor may feel after experiencing sexual assault

Each survivor of sexual assault has their own personal experience, emotions, and ways of coping. There is no right or wrong way for a survivor to feel or react following a sexual assault.

Here are a few common reactions:

  • A change in how the survivor feels about themself. For example, lowered self-esteem or confidence.
  • A change in how the survivor feels about their body. For example, feeling unclean, detached from their body, or wanting to harm their body.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, or eating and sleeping problems.
  • Emotional symptoms such as mood swings or feelings of loss, grief, anger, rage, irritability, or depression. They may also be using humour to cope.
  • Using alcohol, drugs, food, or exercise to cope with intense feelings.
  • Lack of motivation and difficulty concentrating.
  • Problems with sexual intimacy, wanting less or more sex, a change in pleasure, or a change in emotional connection.
  • Wanting to be alone and creating distance in relationships or not wanting to be alone at all.

Healing from sexual assault can take time, and it is a different experience for everyone. If you have experienced sexual assault, it’s ok to ask for help. If you are supporting someone who has experienced sexual assault, there are resources available for you too. 

More information and services