Sexual Violence

*This site provides general information only and is not meant to be used as legal advice. We recommend that you connect with a legal aid office, legal clinic or lawyer if you need legal advice for specific legal problems. 

What is the difference between sexual violencesexual assaultsexual harassment, and criminal harassment?

Sexual violence is a broad, non-legal term that encompasses all forms of violence, physical or psychological, perpetrated through sexual conduct, attempting to obtain a sexual act, or targeting sexuality. It goes beyond the legal definitions of sexual assault or sexual harassment. It may include, but is not limited to, a wide range of crimes and discriminatory conduct, such as sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner sexual violence, voyeurism, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, stalking, or technology-facilitated sexual violence. It is import to recognize that sexual violence is not about isolated incidents of sex crimes but is an expression of power and control that occurs within a system of oppression.

Sexual assault is a legal term defined in the Canadian criminal code. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual activity, such as unwanted kissing, touching or sexual  intercourse. Sexual activity without consent is a criminal offence. 

In Canada’s Criminal Code there are several sexual assault offences:

  1. Simple Sexual Assault, found in s. 271 of the Criminal Code, is any assault of a sexual nature. No physical injury is required for it to be a criminal offence.
  2. Sexual Assault with a Weapon, found in s. 272 of the Criminal Code, is a sexual assault where the assailant uses, carries, or threatens to use a weapon during the assault.
  3. Aggravated Sexual Assault, found in s. 273 of the Criminal Code, is a sexual assault where the survivor is wounded, maimed, disfigured, or where their life is endangered.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under the BC Human Rights Code. It is different than criminal harassment, which is defined in the Criminal Code. Sexual harassment may include:

  • unwanted touching
  • making offensive jokes or remarks about women or men
  • making sexual requests or suggestions
  • staring at or making unwelcome comments about someone’s body
  • showing sexual pictures or images
  • being verbally abusive to someone because of gender

Criminal harassment, under section 264 of the Criminal Code, prohibits certain conduct that causes a person to fear for their safety or the safety of others known to them.

While criminal harassment is not solely a sexual offence, it disproportionately affects women. According to the 2014 General Social Survey, 62% of stalking victims were women, which situates this offence among other forms of sexual violence, including sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Some other sexual offences in the Canadian Criminal Code include: