Terms such as consent, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual violence can be difficult to understand. The below definitions may be useful for survivors to navigate policies, procedures, and experiences.
Please note that these are not legal definitions. This site only provides general information. If you need legal advice, please reach out to A-Branch or view our resource manual for assistance in seeking the appropriate legal aid.
Consent is a voluntary agreement between two or more people to engage in sexual activity. Consent must be clear, informed, voluntary, sober, enthusiastic, act and person-specific, ongoing, mutual, and active.
Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and past consent is not indicative of present or future consent.
“Sexual violence” is an all encompassing term for experiences such as sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest, and intimate partner violence. Legal definitions of these crimes can vary from province to province.
The McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence defines sexual violence as “sexual act or acts targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression that is committed, threatened, or attempted against a person without the person’s Consent and may occur in person, in writing, by phone, or by any means of communication, including online and social media.” It includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, distribution, sharing, and sending of images without consent, and sexual exploitation.
At SACOMSS and throughout our website you may find this term. We use this to acknowledge the broad range of experiences survivors have undergone.
It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. It is also necessary to recognize that sexual violence does not exist alone. It intersects with gender, sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity, age, and ability and thus affects communities and identities differently. Statistics such as this one demonstrate the prevalence of sexual violence, but likely do not portray the full picture.
Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior without the explicit consent of the survivor.
Sexual assault is a legal term found in section 271 of the Canadian Criminal Code.
The Quebec government has also defined sexual assault as “a sexual act, with or without physical contact, committed by an individual without the consent of the victim or, in some cases, and especially when children are involved, through emotional manipulation or blackmail. It is an act that subjects another person to the perpetrator’s desires through an abuse of power, the use of force or coercion, or implicit or explicit threats. Sexual assault violates the victim’s fundamental rights, including the right to physical and psychological integrity and security of the person.”
Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unconsensual remarks, gestures, or actions that are sexual in nature or call attention to gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment may take many forms and can vary in different environments.
In Quebec, sexual harassment is recognized as an infringement on a person’s right to equality under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
The McGill Policy Against Sexual Violence defines sexual harassment as conduct of a sexual nature whereby sexual activity:
A. is made an explicit or implicit term or condition of an individual’s employment or status in a course, program, or activity; or is used as a basis for an employment or educational decision affecting an individual;
B. the effect of which is to impair that person’s work or educational performance where it is known or ought to be known that the conduct is unwelcome