Guidelines For Responding to Sexual Assault

Definition of Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is any sexual contact without consent, including sexual contact by a woman’s intimate partner. It is estimated that one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. Sexual assault includes unwanted kissing, fondling, oral sex, vaginal or anal intercourse, raping with an object, forcing a person to touch someone’s genitals, threats of physical harm to her or someone else if she refuses sexual demands.

Consent is voluntarily agreeing to engage in sexual activity. Under Canadian law, there is no consent when:

  • it is given by someone other than the woman herself
  • she is incapable of consenting, i.e. impaired by alcohol or drugs or cognitive incapacity
  • the accused uses their position of trust, power, or authority
  • she says “no”, by her words or behaviour, i.e. “I don’t feel like it”, crying, her words or actions show that she does not want to continue to engage in sexual activity, ie. “I don’t want to go any further”, moving away from the person, etc..

Suggestions For Service Providers Initial Contact

  • Identify yourself and your role; give her your business card and/or badge number
  • Ask if you can talk to her about the situation
  • Assure her that you understand that this is difficult for her

Create a safe, private, and comfortable environment that facilitates communication by:

  • offering her a support person of her choice
  • placing yourself at eye level
  • keeping your voice calm and quiet
  • respecting her personal space
  • where needed and available, offering an interpreter, referrals and material in her own language

Let her control the intervention wherever possible:

  • do not touch her unless invited
  • find out where she would be comfortable speaking with you
  • allow her to take breaks when needed

Explain to her what will happen with the information she gives you, for example:

Believe her. Be careful about your preconceived ideas about a woman’s reactions. Everyone reacts differently to an assault. Some women may have seemingly no response

Validate and normalize her reactions and feelings

Outline her choices, giving realistic and accurate information about the possible implications of each choice

  • information/records that may be used in court
  • rights and limitations of confidentiality as required by your organization, reporting to supervisor, reporting to Children’s Aid Society

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