May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Canada. The Women’s Centre of Halton prefers to call it Sexual Assault Prevention Month because we need to stop it before it happens.

Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature forced by one or more persons upon an individual. This definition includes unwanted touching and rape.

Touching could be direct or through clothing. The victim may be touched by the perpetrator or the victim may be forced to touch the abuser. This is also known as sexual harassment. Consent is not given, or certainly not given freely, by the victim.

Rape is unlawful sexual intercourse or sexual penetration of a person, with or without the use of force, and without consent. This includes situations where the victim is too intoxicated to give consent.

Drugs or alcohol may be used to intoxicate the victim. The victim may have consumed the alcohol or drugs voluntarily or involuntarily. Date rape or club drugs are perhaps the best-known means of rendering a victim unable to give consent.

Even anesthesia has been used by abusers like Dr. George Doodnaught, convicted of sexually assaulting 21 female patients over a ten-year period while he was an anesthesiologist at North York General Hospital.

It’s well known that 1 in 3 Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. The majority of victims will be under 25 years of age. Most women know their attacker. Most do not report the crime to police. This amounts to 460,000 sexual assaults a year, or one every 17 minutes.

The fact that over 33 percent of women will experience sexual assault is extremely disturbing, but the numbers increase dramatically for marginalized women. Over 57 per cent of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit women, and 83 per cent of disabled women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.

It’s also well documented that 29 per cent of female undergraduate students reported incidents of sexual assault. On-campus assaults often take place during the first eight weeks of classes. Over 80 percent of the rapists are known to their victims. Half of these incidents occur on ‘dates.’

Sexual assault is not an act of passion, love, or affection. This crime relies on an imbalance of power that enables abusers to use coercion and force to control the women and girls they abuse.

Victims and survivors need to know that it is never their fault. Responsibility needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the abusers.

When women are sexual assaulted, men are the perpetrators 99 per cent of the time. In 80 per cent of these cases the assailant was a fellow employee, acquaintance, religious leader, health care provider, friend, or family member. When the perpetrator is someone you thought you could trust, it’s catastrophic.

Sexual assaults occur in private homes 80 per cent of the time. An astonishing 36 percent of the assaults take place in the woman’s own home. That sexual assault is happening in a setting that should be safe is devastating.

For every 100 incidents of sexual assault committed by someone other than a spouse, only six are reported to the police. In the case of ‘date rape’ only one to two percent of assaults are reported. This statistic is significant given the fact that 50 percent of sexual assaults occur during ‘dates.’

Sexual assault within marriage became a criminal offence in 1983. Only 53 percent of women sexually assaulted by a spouse report to police.

At the end of the day, 0.3 percent of perpetrators are convicted.

There is no set timeline for ‘getting over’ a sexual assault. It’s well documented that the effects of rape last longer than other many crimes.

The Women’s Centre of Halton offers support, guidance, encouragement, and the opportunity for women to express their feelings and explore their options.

We are able to provide support for any woman who needs to talk to someone, whether her concerns are great or small. We provide immediate care through our peer support volunteers. We also help women connect with additional in-house and community resources and services like our monthly legal clinic where women can speak with a human rights or employment lawyer.

The Women’s Centre of Halton offers workshops, support groups, counselling, and coaching to support women discovering their own strengths and abilities, gaining confidence, learning coping strategies, skills of self-empowerment, or finding their voice and discovering their true potential.

Whether you need immediate support, information, have a question or concern, or just need someone to listen, we are here.