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What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual Violence Definition

Sexual violence is a broad term that describes actions and behaviours that are done to another person in a sexual way against their will (i.e. without their consent). Sexual violence can include, but is not limited to:

  • sexual assault
  • sexual harassment (repeated unwanted sexual attention)
  • stalking (following a person or repeatedly contacting them)
  • indecent exposure (showing your genitals to someone else against their will)
  • voyeurism (watching someone against their will when they are naked)
  • distributing sexual images or video of someone without consent 

Sexual assault include sexual actions done by one or more individuals to another without consent. It can include any unwanted sexual acts and involve a range of behaviours from unwanted touching or kissing to penetration through the use of force, threats, control of another person that makes someone feel fearful, distressed or threatened or is carried out in a way hat an individual is not able to freely consent.

Sexual harassment includes any unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Stalking includes unwanted and persistent behaviour pursuing contact or harassing another person, online or by other means.

Let’s explore some specific examples of what sexual violence can look like:

  • Making sexual comments or jokes
  • Following someone (pursuing contact)
  • Sharing images/ videos of indecent exposure
  • Repeatedly asking for dates after being told “no”
  • Unnecessary or unwanted physical contact
  • Spreading sex rumors
  • Posting or sharing sexual images
  • Having sex with someone without their consent
  • Demanding hugs
  • Making comments about someone’s physical appearance

The person who caused harm is responsible for their actions whether or not they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Being intoxicated is NOT an excuse for engaging in sexually violent behavior, and it is NOT an acceptable legal defense. The person who caused harm made the choice to be sexually violent, even if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. (CCASA, 2012)


If the person who caused harm was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they engaged in sexually violent behaviour, they cannot be held responsible for their actions.


Sexual violence includes any kind of unwanted sexual attention, not just unwanted physical actions. Some forms of sexual violence that do not involve physical contact are stalking, repeatedly asking someone out on dates, and sharing sexual images without consent. All of these behaviours and actions are serious and can cause harm. (Government of Ontario, 2019)


If it is not a physical sexual assault, it isn’t sexual violence.


In most cases of sexual violence, the offender is known to the person who experienced sexual violence – such as an employer, co-worker, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, neighbour, or relative. In 80-85% of the reported sexual assaults, the person who caused harm was known to the person who experienced harm. (CCASA, 2012).


When sexual violence occurs, it is usually committed by a stranger.


Sexual violence is not an experience only women endure. Men can and do experience sexual violence every day. It can happen to any male, regardless of sexual orientation, size, strength, appearance, occupation, race, or culture. When men experience sexual harassment or assault at any age, they face additional stigma imposed by patriarchal views about masculinity. (Responding to Disclosures.com, 2019).


Men can’t experience sexual violence.

What is Consent?

Consent Definition

Consent is the voluntary agreement to participate in a specific activity, whether it be a hug, kiss, a type of sexual activity, or even sending an intimate photo. Consent is an active, direct, voluntary, unimpaired and conscious choice and agreement between individuals of legal age.

Consent is mandatory when it comes to sexual activity. Consent is also about creating a space where people are respected, have choice, and can decide for themselves what is best for them.

Every person has different comfort levels and boundaries. It is important to asklisten, and respect a person’s answer when it comes to consent, without assuming they will be okay with it, without pressuring them to say yes, or needing to know why if they say no.

Let’s break down the components of consent that must be present in order for consent to exist. 

Consent is:

Consent must be freely given. This means that if a person is pressured, manipulated, threatened, intimidated or otherwise coerced into saying "yes", then it is not consent.

For consent to be freely given, all parties must have equal power. Someone cannot use their position of trust, power, or authority to convince another person to engage in sexual activity.

Consent must be actively given for it to exist, and a person can only consent for themselves. Consent needs to be ongoing, meaning:

  • Consent must be given if the type of activity changes.
  • Consent is required every time. Even if consent was given in the past for activity, it does not mean it automatically exists in the future.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time. If someone indicates that they do not want to continue, either verbally or nonverbally, there is no longer consent.
All parties involved must be clear about what they are consenting to, and a person has the right to choose what they do and do not consent to.

If someone is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, consent cannot be given.

A person must be conscious and awake in order to give consent. There cannot be consent if the person is unconscious, even if they consented to the activity when they were conscious.

All parties involved must be informed, enthusiastic about the activity, and are in agreement about engaging in a specific sexual activity.

Sexual Violence Policy

The Bow Valley College Sexual Violence Policy addresses and responds to sexual violence on-campus.

View the Bow Valley College Sexual Violence Policy and Sexual Violence Procedure

View a simplified, plain-language version of the Bow Valley College Sexual Violence Policy and the Sexual Violence Procedure.

Contact the Sexual Violence Response Advisor at 587-393-3124 or by email at svra@bowvalleycollege.ca.

AASAS. (2019). Myths and realities.

Bow Valley College. (2017). Sexual violence policy.

CCASA. (2012). Sexual assault myths and facts.

Government of Ontario. (2019). Let’s stop sexual harassment and violence.

Responding to Disclosures on Campus.com. (2019). Credibility myth.

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