What is Sexual Assault?
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault has been interpreted as an actual or threatened advance, gesture, touch, or any other sexual act to which an individual has not consented. It includes a person being forced to perform sexual acts against their will. It is determined by a lack of consent, and not by the act itself.
Sexual assault falls on the continuum of sexual violence. Sexual violence is defined by the World Health Organization as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work”.
What is Consent?
Consent is active, ongoing, informed, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity through words or body language. Consent:
- Must be sought throughout all sexual activities; if someone says ‘yes’ to one activity, it does not mean they consent to all sexual activities
- Should be enthusiastic; someone does not consent if they say “No”, “Not sure”, “I’m uncomfortable”, “I’m scared”, “I think I’ve had too much to drink”. Communicating “No” nonverbally may include staying silent, turning away and/or crossing arms
- Cannot be obtained through threats, coercion, or other forms of control and intimidation
- Cannot be given by someone who is intoxicated or unconscious. For more about intoxication, see 4th point under “How to Ask for Consent”.
How to Ask for Consent
- Know yourself and what you want. This is the best way to encourage healthy, consensual sex.
- Just Ask. Tell a partner what you want to do and ask about their comfort level: Can I kiss you? Would you like a hug? How far do you think you would be comfortable going? Have you ever done… Would you like to try it with me? I’d really like to… What do you think? You seem quiet… Are you sure? It is important to keep checking in.
- Listen, Listen, Listen: to both words and body language. When someone yells “More”, keep going. When someone whispers “Stop”, then STOP. If your partner doesn’t seem into it, there is probably a reason. Stop all physical engagement and have a conversation.
- Watch your substance use. Alcohol and drugs make communication more difficult. It is harder to hear someone else, to check in with ourselves about what we want and need, and to respond to your partner’s desire to participate in sex or stop when they want to.
York University Policy
York University has a Sexual Violence Policy. This policy affirms York University’s ongoing commitment to foster a culture where attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate sexual violence are rejected, survivors are supported, and those who commit incidents of sexual violence are held accountable. It replaces the Policy on Sexual Assault Awareness, Prevention and Response and the Sexual Harassment Policy.
The policy outlines the supports and services available to those affected by sexual violence, the processes in place to address reports of sexual violence, the rights and obligations of community members regarding sexual violence, and affirms the University’s commitment to procedural fairness.
This policy applies to York University community members including but not limited to students, staff, administrators, faculty, librarians, members of the Board of Governors and Senate, adjunct and visiting faculty, postdoctoral fellows, volunteers, contractors, and invited guests.
What if someone discloses that they have been sexually assaulted?
- Believe them. Try not to ask questions that sound like you don’t believe their story - for example, questions that start with “Why did/didn’t you…?”. Allow survivors to disclose what they want rather than asking for details. Communicate that survivors are never to blame for an assault
- Actively listen to the survivor. Stay focused on what the survivor is saying and what they need
- Be aware of your body language. Empathetic words have to be supported by empathetic body language. Recognize that a survivor may not feel comfortable with physical contact
Sexual Assault can:
- Be experienced or perpetrated by any person - regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, position of power and/or other defining characteristics
- Have a serious impact on a survivor’s ability to study and work
- Result in:
- Anxiety and/or Depression
- Eating problems
- Feeling helpless
- Undertaking self-harm or high risk behavior
(including substance abuse)
- Having difficulty trusting others
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and / or unwanted pregnancy
- Affect survivors differently
There are groups who are more vulnerable to experiencing sexual assault including young people, people with disabilities, transwomen, racialized women, and Aboriginal women. These groups of people experience higher rates of harassment, assault and violence.
York Resources for Survivors of Sexual Assault
Links to York Policy
- Assaulted Women’s Helpline (24/7): 1-866-863-0511; TTY 1-866-863-7868
- Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres
- Toronto Rape Crisis Centre (24/7): 416-597-8808
- Women’s College Hospital (24/7)