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What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is any form of violence that involves sexual activity or targets a person’s sexuality. Sexual violence encompasses unwanted sexual gestures, comments, behaviour, and attitudes expressed directly or indirectly, including through technology. 

Types of sexual violence

  • Cybersexual violence;
  • Repeated behaviour that is sexist, heterosexist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, or misogynistic, etc.;
  • Creating or distributing sexual images of a person without consent;
  • Forced sexual intimacy without consent;
  • Undue and unwanted expression of interest;
  • Sexual harassment;
  • Acts of voyeurism and exhibitionism;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Any act of power, promise of a reward, or threat of retaliation, implicit or explicit, for complying with or rejecting a request of a sexual nature;
  • Unwanted comments, allusions, jokes or insults of a sexual nature;
  • Unwanted physical advances.

The following instances do not constitute sexual violence:

  • Treating others with respect;
  • Reciprocal flirting;
  • Invitations or expressions of romantic or sexual interest without insisting in the event of refusal;
  • Giving compliments without sexual overtones;
  • Occasional expressions of appreciation that fall within the boundaries of civility and the recipient’s limits;
  • Friendly, romantic or sexual relations between consenting persons. 

Consent is agreement given by one person to another in relation to actions, words, behaviours or attitudes with a sexual connotation. It must be given freely, voluntarily and on an informed basis, and can be withdrawn at any time. Sexual consent is deemed invalid if: 

  • The person is unconscious or unable to communicate;
  • The person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
  • The person requesting consent is in a position of power, trust or authority;
  • The person changes their mind;
  • The person says nothing or does not refuse;
  • Consent is obtained by way of threats and coercion.

The concept of consent in sexual assault cases is defined in section 273.1 of the Criminal Code. Sexual consent is voluntary agreement given by a person to their partner when engaging in sexual activity. A person must clearly communicate their agreement to the sexual activity for their consent to be valid. Agreement can be communicated verbally, through behaviour or both. Sexual consent must be given voluntarily, i.e., it must be a free and informed choice. If a person refuses to engage in sexual activity with another person and is forced to do so, it is considered assault. No one has the right to impose sexual relations on another person against their will. Consent is only valid if it has been granted freely. If a person is paralyzed by fear, or is afraid to react, there is no consent on their part. Being intoxicated by drugs or alcohol is NEVER an invitation for sexual contact. Agreeing to drink alcohol or do drugs is not consent for sexual activity. The only person responsible for a sexual assault is the person who commits the assault. 

People have the right to say NO at any time. When a person is forced to do what an abuser requires of them, they are not freely consenting to sexual activity.

Getting help, support, and an attentive ear

Front-line service, psychosocial support, assistance and information on sexual violence are provided by one of our expert resources, the Crime Victims Assistance Centre. The organization is recognized by Ministre de la Justice and provides front-line psychosocial and legal services to victims of criminal acts and their families, whether or not the perpetrator is identified, arrested, prosecuted or convicted. Each of their regional centres has sexual violence liaison officers, whose role includes working with the higher education community.

Harcèlement psychologique et violences à caractère sexuel

Need help or someone to talk to?

Call 1 888 401-VACS (8227) or write to

Resources are available to the community free of charge and in complete confidentiality.