Dispelling the Myths

MYTH: Sexual assault is not a common problem.

FACT: Sexual assault is experienced by Canadian women every day at home, at work, at school and on the street.

  • A 1993 Statistics Canada survey found that one-half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. Almost 60% of these women were the targets of more than one such incident (Statistics Canada, The Daily. (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, November 18, 1993)).
  • A 1984 study found that one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. Half of these assaults will be against women under the age of 16 (Brickman & Briere, Winnipeg, 1984).
  • For women with disabilities, these figures may be even higher. One study indicates that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime (Liz Stimpson and Margaret C. Best, Courage Above All: Sexual Assault Against Women with Disabilities, 1991).

MYTH: Women lie about being sexually assaulted, often because they feel guilty about having sex.

FACT: Women rarely make false reports about sexual assault. In fact, sexual assault is a vastly under-reported crime. According to Statistics Canada, only 6% of all sexual assaults are reported to police (Statistics Canada, The Daily. (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, November 18, 1993)).

MYTHSexual assault is most often committed by strangers.

FACT: Women face the greatest risk of sexual assault from men they know, not strangers. Of the women who are sexually assaulted, most (67 - 83%) are sexually assaulted by men known to them: dates, boyfriends, marital partners, friends, family members or neighbors (Stermac, Toronto, 1991-93; D. Russell, USA, 1984).

For example, four out of five female undergraduates recently surveyed at Canadian universities said that they had been victims of violence in a dating relationship. Of that number, 29% reported incidents of sexual assault (W. DeKeseredy and K.Kelly, The Incidence and Prevalence of Woman Abuse in Canadian University and College Dating Relationships: Results from a National Survey, 1993).

When a woman knows the man who sexually assaults her, it is less likely that it will be recognized as a crime, even by her. But these sexual assaults are no less a crime than those committed by strangers.

MYTH: The best way for a woman to protect herself from sexual assault is to avoid being alone at night in dark, deserted places, such as alleys or parking lots.

FACT: Most sexual assaults (80%) occur in a private home and the largest percentage of these occur in the victim's own home. The idea that most sexual assaults fit the 'stranger-in-a-dark-alley' stereotype can lead to a false sense of security (Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Ottawa, 1985).

MYTH: Women who are sexually assaulted "ask for it" by the way they dress or act.

FACT: The idea that women "ask for it" is often used by offenders to rationalize their behaviour. It also blames the victim for the crime, not the offender.

Victims of sexual assault report a wide range of dress and actions at the time of the assault. Any woman of any age and physical type, in almost any situation, can be sexually assaulted. If a woman is sexually assaulted, it is not her fault.

No woman ever "asks" or deserves to be sexually assaulted. Whatever a woman wears, wherever she goes, whomever she talks to, "no" means "no". It's the law.

MYTH: Men who sexually assault women are either mentally ill or sexually starved.

FACT: Men who sexually assault are not mentally ill or sexually starved. Studies on the profiles of rapists reveal that they are "ordinary" and "normal" men who sexually assault women in order to assert power and control over them (Helen Lenskyj, "An Analysis of Violence Against Women: A Manual for Educators and Administrators," Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1992).

MYTH: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to sexually assault women.

FACT: Men who commit sexual assault come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. The belief that women are more often sexually assaulted by men of colour or working class men is a stereotype rooted in racism and classism.

Men who commit sexual assault can be the doctors, teachers, employers, co-workers, lawyers, husbands, or relatives of the women they assault.

A recent survey on date rape provides a strong indication of the range of potential male offenders. In this survey, 60% of Canadian college-aged males indicated that they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they would not get caught (Helen Lenskyj, "An Analysis of Violence Against Women: A Manual for Educators and Administrators," Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1992).

MYTH: It's only sexual assault if physical violence or weapons are used.

FACT: Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature imposed by one person upon another. The Criminal Code definition of sexual assault includes a number of acts ranging from unwanted sexual touching, to sexual violence resulting in wounding, maiming or endangering the life of the victim.

Most sexual assaults are committed by a man known to the victim who is likely to use verbal pressure, tricks and/or threats during an assault.

MYTH: Unless she is physically harmed, a sexual assault victim will not suffer any long-term effects.

FACT: Sexual assault can have serious effects on women's health and well-being. A recent survey of Canadian women found that nine out of ten incidents of violence against women have an emotional effect on the victim. Women who have been sexually assaulted feel anger, fear and can become more cautious and less trusting (Statistics Canada, The Daily. (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, November 18, 1993)).

MYTH: Women cannot be sexually assaulted by their husbands or boyfriends.

FACT: Under the law, women have the right to say no to any form of sex, even in a marriage or dating relationship. The Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women found that 38% of sexually assaulted women were assaulted by their husbands, common-law partners or boyfriends (Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, 1993). Although sexual assault within relationships has been illegal in Canada since 1983, few women report such incidents to police.

Sexual Assault Laws

Our sexual assault laws in Canada changed in 1983. Before 1983, there were two crimes of sexual aggression. These were rape and sexual assault. The term raped implied penile/vaginal penetration and the latter term sexual assault was reserved for acts of gross indecency or indecent assault; charges considered less serious in nature.

Rape could only occur between a male offender and a female victim and a husband could not be charged with raping his wife. Under the old legislation, evidence of the victim’s sexual history was admissible in court and then there was the recent complaint rule which stated that in order to be considered a credible witness, the victim had to report the offense at the first possible opportunity.

Under the new legislation, the Criminal Code now identifies three levels of sexual assault based on the degree of force used. Also under the updated legislation, there is no statute of limitations on reporting. Survivors of sexual assault can report to police at any time, however, the longer they wait there is less of a chance for conviction due to lack of evidence. Pilot projects are operating in some communities which allow a survivor to provide their evidence to be stored for up to one year without filing a police report. This allows for time to consider all factors in their decision while maintaining evidence relevant to their case in a secure location.

3 Levels of Sexual Assault

Level 1 Sexual Assault: occurs if you have been kissed, fondled or forced to have intercourse without your consent. It is a crime because it happened without your permission. Most people, including some survivors, often don’t recognize a Level 1 sexual assault as a sexual assault although it is the most common form. There is a tendency to minimize the effects of the assault and to blame the victim for the assault having taken place. Was she or he in a dangerous place, a dark alley, a bar? What was their behaviour? Were they drinking? Were they flirting?

Level 2 Sexual Assault: sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm – happens if a victim is sexually assaulted by someone who has a weapon or an imitation weapon and threatens to use it; the offender threatens to harm a third person, a child or a friend if the victim does not consent to the sexual act; the offender causes the victim harm; or more than one person assaults the victim in the same incident. A Level 2 sexual assault is the most easily recognized. It becomes more difficult to hold the survivor responsible or to blame the survivor for the sexual assault if there was a weapon or if the survivor was assaulted by more than one person.

Level 3 Aggravated Sexual Assault: takes place if a victim is wounded, maimed or disfigured, beaten or in danger of losing their life while being sexually assaulted. Level 3 sexual assault is the most physically violent. If an individual experiences a Level 3 sexual assault, it is less likely that people would ask him or her what she was wearing and/or if s/he was drinking at the time of the assault, although this sometimes still happens.

Children and Sexual Assault/Abuse

Taken from Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services

  • In a 1991 Canadian study, about 4% of boys and 10% of girls experienced severe sexual abuse before the age of 17 (MacMillan, Fleming, & Trocme et al, 1997). In this study, severe sexual abuse is defined as an adult threatening to have sex with a child, touching a child's "sex parts", trying to engage in sex with a child, or sexually attacking a child.
  • The most extensive study of child sexual abuse in Canada was conducted by the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youths. Study findings indicate that, among adult Canadians, 53 percent of women and 31 percent of men were sexually abused when they were children (Badgley, 1988).
  • In 2003, 61% of all victims of sexual assault reported to the police were children and youth under 18 years of age. Reports of girl victims were highest at ages 11 to 19 and reports of boy victims were highest at 3 to 14 years of age (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics).
  • There is little evidence that many children deliberately make false allegations or misinterpret appropriate adult-child contact as sexual abuse. In the few recorded cases in which children appear to have made false allegations, it has usually been the result of manipulation by an adult. False denials of sexual abuse (saying it did not happen when it did) and recanting a disclosure of abuse (denying that it happened after having told someone about being abused) are much more common than false reports (Health Canada, 1997).
  • Among substantiated sexual abuse cases reported to Child Welfare Authorities in Canada, non-parental relatives represented the largest group of alleged perpetrators (28%), followed by biological fathers (15%), and step-fathers (9%). Biological mothers held 5% (Trocme, MacLaurin, & Fallon, et al. 2001).
  • In an analysis of 23 research studies (Jumper, 1995), significant relationships were noted between the experience of child sexual abuse and subsequent depression, lowered self-esteem, and psychological symptomatology including anxiety related problems, personality disorders, suicidal behaviours, psychiatric illness and dissociative disorders.
  • A study by The Roeher Institute (1992) in Canada found that 40-70% of female children with developmental disabilities and 15 - 30% of male children with developmental disabilities experience sexual abuse.
  • The legacy of sexual abuse in residential schools in Canada has resulted in generations of First Nations children and families living with the trauma associated with childhood sexual abuse (AASAC, 2005).

Women and Sexual Assault/Abuse

Taken from Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services

  • 39% of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual assault since the age of 16 (Statistics Canada, 1993).
  • Only 6% of these women report their experience of sexual assault to the police - the other 94% remain the silent majority (Statistics Canada, 1993).
  • 58% of adult women in Alberta have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical assault since the age of 16 (Statistics Canada, 1993).
  • In 2000, 27,154 sexual offences were reported in Canada, including 24,049 sexual assaults and 3,105 other types of sexual offences (such as sexual touching, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, incest, sodomy and bestiality). Women made up the vast majority of victims of sexual assault (86%) and other types of sexual offences (78%) (Statistics Canada, 2001).
  • Adult women sexually molested as children are more likely than non-victims to suffer from both physical and psychological problems. Abusive and manipulative offenders may target these women as victims in adult relationships because of their vulnerability (Moeller & Bachmann, 1993).
  • 83% of Canadian women fear walking to their cars in a public garage after dark alone. 75% fear waiting for/using public transportation. 60% fear walking alone in their own area. 39% fear being at home alone (Statistics Canada, 1993).
  • It is estimated that women with disabilities are 1.5 to 10 times as likely to be abused as non-disabled women, depending on whether they live in the community or in institutions (Sobsey, 1988).
  • A 1991 Canadian study estimated that 40% of women with disabilities have had some experience with assault, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse (Stimpson & Best, 1991).
  • A study found that 20% of lesbians had experienced some form of emotional/psychological or physical violence in a relationship with a woman. Eleven percent had experienced physical violence, and 2% had been sexually assaulted in the relationship. The statistics are much lower than in male-female relationships, but it nevertheless remains an important issue, particularly because lesbians may not feel they can seek help from social services, police or the courts because of the stigma and discrimination around sexual orientation (Health Canada, 1998).
  • Frontline organizations confirmed that racist and sexist attitudes toward Aboriginal women continue to make them vulnerable to sexual assaults in Canadian cities (Amnesty International, 2004).
  • A 1999 report by the United States Department of Justice provides statistics on a range of violent crimes against Indigenous people in the U.S.A. According to this report, the rates of reported sexual assault are more than three times higher for Indigenous women than non-Indigenous women in the U.S. What is unique about Indigenous women's experience, according to this report, is that fully 70 percent of all violent crimes against Indigenous people in the US - and 90 percent of sexual assaults - are reported to be carried out by non-Indigenous people.
  • Four percent of women over the age of 65 have experienced a sexual assault (Statistics Canada, 2005).

Men and Sexual Assault/Abuse

Taken from Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services

  • Males made up 29% of child victims, 12% of youth, and 8% of adult victims of sexual assault reported to 154 police agencies across Canada. 53% of the offenders of police-reported adult male sexual assault victims are acquaintances and 23% are strangers (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2003).
  • Based on the examination of 166 studies, an American study found that common symptoms for men sexually abused as children include: increased rates of posttraumatic stress disorder and suicide attempts, major depression, anxiety disorders, paranoia, dissociation, bulimia, anger, aggressive behavior, poor self-image, poor school performance, running away from home, and legal trouble (Homes & Slap, 1998).
  • While there is limited research around adult male sexual assault survivors, a study in the United States  suggests the following: 93.7% of the offenders were male and 6.3% of the offenders were female. 68.5% of the offenders was someone known to the victim and 31.5% were strangers. 89.5% of the offenders were heterosexual. 40.5% of the assaults involved more than one perpetrator. 48.8% of the assailants used a weapon during the assault. 59.9% used physical force to commit the assault. Victim response: depression (91.8%), increased use of alcohol or drugs (68.4%), thoughts of suicide (46.3%) and shame (89.3%) (Isley & Gehrenbeck-Shim, 1997).
  • 5% - 10% of gay men reported being sexually assaulted by heterosexual male perpetrators as a form of gay bashing (Berrill, 1990).
  • Research by McClennen, Summers and Vaughan (2002) suggests that 28.1% of gay men experience sexual assault by their partner.
  • Adult men with disabilities experience abuse more often then adult men without disabilities. Dick Sobsey (1994) found that 30% of abuse survivors with disabilities are male.


Treaty 7 & 4

Medicine Hat, AB T1B 4R7

Phone: 403-548-2717


If you need immediate support please contact Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence at