Sexualized violence is an all-encompassing term that includes sexual assault, sexual abuse and sexual harassment.  The word violence does not only refer to physical violence but includes emotional and psychological harm as well.

Sexual Assault vs. Abuse vs. Harassment: What’s the Difference?

Sexual abuse refers to ongoing or patterned sexualized behaviour against anyone by someone in a position of power / authority (or perceived power / authority); OR any sexual misconduct that is committed against a child, adolescent, or vulnerable adult by someone in a position of power or perceived authority. Grooming often takes place before the act of abuse. Grooming is a process of manipulation and trust building that a perpetrator will use to create an atmosphere where they can exploit a person, e.g. keeping secrets, isolating, turning someone against their support system, gift giving, etc. Follow this link for more information on grooming.

 In Canada there are laws regarding the ages of consent:

  • 16 years of age is the minimum for consent; 15 years or younger cannot legally consent to sexual activity, unless:
  • 14 & 15 year-olds can consent to sexual activity with someone who is no more than 5 years older (peer group exception)
  • 12 & 13 year-olds can consent to sexual activity with someone who is no less than 2 years older (close in age exception)
  • Under 12 years of age cannot consent to sexual activity under any circumstance

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual act or behaviour that is threatening, violent, forced, or coercive, and where consent was not obtained or maintained. The Canadian Criminal Code specifies that consent cannot be obtained in the following instances where:

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

Sexual assault is another umbrella term that encompasses many sexually inappropriate acts, including but not limited to coerced sexual activity, non-consensual kissing or touch, and rape. Other acts that are considered to be sexually inappropriate, such as the non-consensual sharing of nude pictures and voyeurism, are also illegal but are classified under section 162.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code.    

Sexual harassment is any unwarranted sexual conduct that interferes with a person’s rights, as per the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Sexual harassment can be verbal, physical, or visual; it can occur as a single incident or a series of incidents. Sexual harassment is not allowed in the workplace, at schools, colleges or universities, or in the provision of a public service. It is unsolicited and unwelcomed behaviour, which can take place in many forms and can lead to more severe acts over time:

  • sexual remarks, “jokes”, advances, or invitations
  • displaying offensive pictures or photos
  • threats
  • leering
  • physical contact, such as touching, patting, pinching, or brushing against
  • sexual and physical assault.

Sexual Assault & the Criminal Code of Canada

The Criminal Code of Canada recognizes three types of sexualized violence, which result in different charges. All are considered to be sexual assault.

  • Sexual assault (causing little or no physical injury);
  • Sexual assault involving a weapon, threat, or bodily harm; and
  • Aggravated sexual assault, which involves physical wounds, disfigurement, or threats to the life of the survivor.

While most sexual assaults fall into the first category, all types of sexual assault can have long-term effects on a survivor’s psychological well-being.

All sexual contact with a child (under the age of 12) is illegal according to the Criminal Code of Canada.

For full details on illegal acts included in the Criminal Code of Canada, visit their website here.

For More Support

For more information on SSAIC counselling services, click here.

To speak with someone who is trained to help in a crisis situation, call our 24-hour Crisis Line at 306-244-2224.

For more information on how to support victims of sexual assault, click here.