Sexual Violence

Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic


The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." Sexual violence is any form of non-consensual or forced sexual activity or touching, which includes rape. These activities are considered crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada where the term “sexual assault” refers to any forced sexual contact without bodily harm, forced sexual contact causing or threatening to cause bodily harm using a weapon, and forced sexual contact that causes aggravated bodily harm or endangers the life of the survivor or other. Sexual assault offences are categorized based on severity as Levels 1, 11 or 111.   

Sex Issues

Physical health concerns related to sexual violence may include assault related injuries, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unwanted pregnancy, pelvic pain, vaginal bleeding or infection, urinary tract infections, gynecological problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and a range of chronic pain disorders such as back pain, headaches, and facial pain. Survivors of sexual assault average more surgeries, physicians and pharmacy visits. Violence may be a more common problem for pregnant women than other conditions, such as gestational diabetes. 

Gender Issues

While some boys and men are sexually assaulted by other men, the vast majority of victims are female; 2003 Statistics Canada data state that males accounted for 97% of accused sex offenders, while the majority of victims were female (85%). Women who live with abusive partners have difficulty controlling their own sex lives, which includes granting sexual access to their bodies. As a result, women often deal with unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and recurring and/or untreated problems due to the difficulties of following treatment (e.g., remaining sexually abstinent while taking medication to treat a STI). Sexual violence increases a women’s vulnerability to being victimized again in the future and can also increase high-risk sexual behaviors, as well as the use of harmful substances. Common emotional responses may include fear, shame, depression, self-blame, guilt, and anger. Some of the associated mental health issues related to sexual violence include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, chronic stress related issues, unhealthy diet-related behaviors, and attempted or completed suicides.


Data on sexual violence are limited, but studies confirm that Aboriginal women and young women are more vulnerable to sexual assault. Statistics also show that women are more likely to experience sexual assault on reserve compared to non-reserve areas. Barriers to reporting for immigrant and visible minority women without landed immigrant status can be restricted access to justice due to racial stereotypes or the risk of deportation. At risk populations, such as women with disabilities, are at greater risk of being sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 


Sexual assault is largely unreported. Only 6% of all sexual assault are reported to the police. Date rape is the most underreported crime in Canada and most of its victims are between the ages of 16 to 24. Information on the prevalence of sexual violence is limited even more so among some populations, such as Aboriginal women, immigrant, and refugee women. The large population-based surveys do not include items about the experience of sexual violence and subsequent health issues.

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health determinants > violence > sexual violence