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Better understanding sexual violence

“Sexual violence” is a generic term that includes any action or attempted action of a sexual nature committed against another person without their freely and clearly expressed consent. The perpetrator may use force, restraint, coercion or intimidation to force another person to participate in sexual activities against their will. Sexual violence is never the fault of the victim. 

Every form of sexual violence is a grave violation of human rights. It is an act of domination that can also be related to other forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia. It can have serious, lasting consequences on the victim’s physical and emotional well-being. Anyone who has been affected by sexual violence is entitled to help and support. 

There are several forms of sexual violence

It is often difficult to put the hardships or trauma we have experienced into words. Sexual violence affects not just victims, but those close to them as well, such as their family and friends. Having a better understanding of the nature of what happened can strengthen our ability to ask for help or offer it. 

Sexual assault

A sexual assault is an act of a sexual nature, with or without physical contact, committed without the consent of the person to whom it is addressed. The act can be a kiss without consent, touching without consent, penetration without consent, exhibitionism, frotteurism, voyeurism, or forced viewing of pornographic material.

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation occurs when someone uses another person’s body or sexuality without their consent. It includes human trafficking, controlling another person’s sexuality for the purpose of financial or social gain, forced prostitution, prostitution of minors, child pornography, and other forms of abuse involving the control of another person’s sexuality.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual behaviour that creates a social climate or work environment that is hostile, intimidating or offensive for the person who is the target. It can occur in different contexts: at work, at school, in a public space or online. Sexual harassment includes offensive comments, unwelcome sexual advances, demands for sexual favours, inappropriate jokes, and other forms of unwanted sexual behaviour.

Sexual cyberviolence

Cyberviolence designates any form of violence perpetrated through the use of digital technology, such as the Internet and social media. It includes cyber harassment, sending unwanted explicit images or unwanted sharing of intimate images, cyber predators and sextortion.

Who can be a victim?

Sexual violence can affect anyone, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, age or origins. Certain groups, however, such as women, children, 2SLGBTQ+ persons, the elderly, racialized persons and those living with a disability, are particularly vulnerable.

Sexual violence affects not only its victims but also those who are close to them. It can even have an impact on a victim’s entire social circle and community.

The consequences of sexual violence

Not all victims of sexual violence react in the same way. There are many different emotions, reactions and psychological impacts that can arise during and following an act of sexual violence; the way in which a victim reacted/is reacting must never be allowed to diminish or minimize the severity of the violence committed.

  • When intimate parts of the body are stimulated, a person may have physiological and sensory sensations, including arousal. This type of involuntary physiological reaction is out of the victim’s control and must in no way be considered as consent.
  • The victim of a sexual assault rarely has obvious physical injuries like cuts or bruises on their face. The invisible consequences of sexual assault are just as real. 
  • Victims do not always display anger or panic. A victim’s apparent calm can sometimes cause others to doubt their story; they themselves may still be having difficulty realizing what has happened to them.

Sexual violence is a violation of the human dignity of the victim that can have harmful effects on their well-being over the short, medium and long term. A victim’s reactions following an act of sexual violence depends on many factors, such as the form of sexual violence, the context in which it occurred, the victim’s age at the time of the event, whether or not the violence was repeated, the relationship between the victim and their assailant, the reaction of those close to them and the resources available to help the victim. 

There are many possible psychological consequences of sexual violence, ranging from difficult emotions to serious psychological disorders. Depending on the nature of the sexual violence, victims may have to deal with consequences affecting their physical integrity.

Sexual violence can also profoundly affect victims’ relationship with intimacy and their sexuality in many ways. There may be serious repercussions on their ability to create or maintain relationships.

If you would like to know more about the consequences of sexual violence on victims’ physical and mental health, as well as what to expect in terms of possible, normal reactions, visit the Sexual Violence Helpline website.

Help and support are available

Regardless of the nature of the sexual violence the victim experienced or the consequences they are dealing with, the team at the MSAC is dedicated to offering every victim the type of assistance they require.

Our support services are adapted to victims’ needs. All our services are confidential and free of charge.

Contact a counsellor at the Sexual Violence Helpline to find out more and get help immediately.