Silent Suffering: Sexual Assault in Canada (Part 1)

Sexual assault refers to any sexual activity that occurs without explicit consent from all parties involved, ranging from unwanted touching to rape. In Canada, sexual violence is a pervasive crime that persists despite numerous efforts to address it, leaving many victims to suffer silently. It is a form of gender-based violence that stems from inequality and injustice, and can occur in various settings, including romantic relationships, families, workplaces, and among acquaintances or strangers. Often happening in private, this problem has been dubbed the “darkness behind closed doors.” This article delves into the issue of silent suffering and highlights the urgent need for change in Canada.

Key elements of sexual assault include:

Lack of Consent: Consent must be freely given, informed, and ongoing. It’s not valid if it’s given under pressure, manipulation, threats, or while the person is incapacitated (for example, due to alcohol, drugs, or unconsciousness).

Any Sexual Activity: Sexual assault can involve a wide range of actions, not just intercourse. This includes unwanted touching, kissing, fondling, or forcing someone to perform sexual acts.

Violence or Threat of Violence: Sexual assault often involves physical force or the threat of force. However, it can also occur without physical force if the person is manipulated, threatened, or coerced into non-consensual sexual activity.

It’s important to note that sexual assault is a crime, and it’s never the fault of the victim. Regardless of the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, the circumstances, or the behavior of the victim, sexual assault is a violation of a person’s rights and autonomy.

The Darkness Behind Closed Doors

Sexual assault is a type of crime that often takes place in private, making it difficult to find witnesses. Because of its nature, victims may feel too ashamed or frightened to speak up, leading them to suffer in silence. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to sexual assault only adds to this silence, leaving victims feeling blamed or shamed for what happened to them.

As a result, many survivors may suffer from long-term mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite efforts to address the problem, the secrecy surrounding sexual assault makes it difficult to accurately understand the scale of the problem in Canada.

The Prevalence of Sexual Violence in Canada

According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, there were 25,900 police-reported sexual assaults in Canada. However, this number only accounts for a small fraction of the actual sexual assaults that occur, as many victims do not report the crime to the police. Additionally, marginalized communities such and people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by sexual violence.

In August 2022, Statistics Canada reported that sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada not declining. According to the report, the sexual assault rate in 2021 was the highest since 1996. There were more than 34,200 reports of sexual assault in Canada in 2021, an 18 per cent increase from 2020.

Sexual assault is a significant issue in Canada. According to data from the Department of Justice, the self-reported rate of sexual assault has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years as of their report, with 21 incidents per 1,000 population in 1999. Women are victimized at a higher rate (37 incidents per 1,000 women) than men (5 incidents per 1,000 men). Young people aged 15-24 years have the highest rate of sexual assault, and over half of sexual assault incidents involve an offender who was known to the victim. Sexual assault accounted for 10% of all violent self-reported incidents in the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS)​1​.

However, the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to police. According to the 2014 GSS, 83% of sexual assaults were not reported to police. Reasons for not reporting sexual abuse and/or assault often include beliefs that they would not be believed, feelings of shame or embarrassment, lack of knowledge about their ability to report, and lack of family support​.

These statistics paint a grim picture of the prevalence of sexual violence in Canada. This issue is not only a matter of statistics but also one of human lives and dignity. It is crucial that we take action to address the issue and support survivors.

The Harrowing Impact on Survivors

Sexual assault can have devastating consequences on survivors, both physically and emotionally. Victims may experience physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections. Moreover, the psychological impact of sexual violence can be long-lasting, leading to a range of negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse.

The impact of sexual violence can also extend beyond the individual survivor, affecting their families, friends, and communities. It is important to recognize that survivors need support and understanding, and that recovery is a long and difficult process.

The Urgent Need for Change

The issue of sexual violence in Canada cannot be ignored. It is a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution. We must work towards creating a culture that supports survivors and holds perpetrators accountable. This can be accomplished through education, awareness campaigns, and the implementation of policies that prioritize the well-being of survivors.

Additionally, we must work to dismantle systems of oppression that enable sexual violence to occur, such as patriarchy, racism, and ableism. This requires a collective effort from all members of society to challenge and change these structures.

In conclusion, the issue of silent suffering in Canada is a complex and pervasive problem that requires urgent attention. We must work together to address the root causes of sexual violence and support survivors in their healing journey. Only then can we create a society where everyone is safe and free from harm.

Resources For Survivors of Sexual Assault in Canada

There are numerous resources available in Canada for survivors of sexual assault. Here are a few:

Assaulted Women’s Helpline: This is a 24/7 crisis line for women in Ontario who have experienced any type of abuse. They offer counselling, emotional support, information, and referrals. Their toll-free number is 1-866-863-0511.

Ending Violence Association of Canada (EVA Canada): This national organization works to end gender-based violence by providing resources, training, and support for professionals and organizations across the country.

Canadian Centre for Victims of Crime (CCVC): The CCVC provides support, information, and advocacy for victims of crime, including survivors of sexual assault.

Kids Help Phone: This is a counseling service for young people who need someone to talk to. It operates 24/7 and can be reached at 1-800-668-6868.

Shelters and Transition Houses: These are safe places where survivors of sexual assault can go if they need to leave a dangerous situation. Shelters can provide temporary housing, as well as counseling and support.

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC): CASAC is a pan-Canadian group of sexual assault centres who have come together to implement the legal, social and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent, and ultimately eradicate, rape and sexual assault.

Crisis Text Line: This service is powered by Kids Help Phone and provides confidential support to texters who are in crisis. Text CONNECT to 686868 to get started.

Sexual Assault Support Centres: There are many local sexual assault support centres throughout the provinces and territories that offer a variety of services, such as counseling, support groups, and advocacy.

Moose Hide Campaign: This is a grassroots movement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and boys who are standing up against violence towards women and children. They provide educational resources and a space for men to engage in this important conversation.

Remember, if you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 911.

Canadian Women’s Foundation
Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC)

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