Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact without voluntary consent. Sexual contact here includes:
- Unwanted oral contact or "kissing"
- Unwanted touching, grabbing, groping, or sexual rubbing
- Unwanted oral-genital contact or "oral sex"
- Unwanted vaginal or anal penetration
As the definition of sexual assault above indicates, consent must be voluntary. This means that consent must be freely given; if someone has been manipulated to give in to sexual contact due to coercion (guilt, repeatedly asking, emotional or financial threats, blackmail, emotional manipulation etc.) or physical force, consent has not been obtained. This may feel confusing. Remember, however, that it is never your fault if someone made you feel obligated or pressured to engage in sexual contact.
When individuals are voluntarily consenting, they are actively and enthusiastically participating in sexual contact. Their body language is comfortable and relaxed. Often, people may feel uncomfortable or afraid to say "No" verbally. This is why it is important to check in with your partner's body language. If someone's body is tense, closed off, they are not participating in the sexual contact, or they are giving excuses (e.g. "I'm feeling too tired.") they are not voluntarily consenting and it is not ok to continue pursuing sexual contact with them. It is also normal for people to freeze up when they feel uncomfortable or afraid.
Voluntary consent is ongoing. People are allowed to withdraw their consent at any time during sexual contact for any reason. If your partner begins to feel uncomfortable during sexual contact, it is your responsibility to check in with them and discontinue the sexual activity. You will be able to tell if your partner is uncomfortable based on their body language and words. Voluntary consent is also act-specific and person-specific. Someone may be comfortable and voluntarily consenting to one sexual act; this does not mean, however, that they are consenting to any other sexual acts. Because voluntary consent is ongoing, consent must be obtained in the moment to ensure that someone has not changed their mind. Even if you have had sexual contact with someone before, are married, or are in an intimate relationship with them, it is important to ensure that they are voluntarily consenting to sexual contact every time you seek to engage in it.
Voluntary consent can only come from someone who is capable of consenting. Consent is only valid if an individual is conscious, over the age of consent, and in a sound state of mind. An individual must be sober enough to agree to participate in sexual contact. If someone is slurring their words, stumbling, vomiting, passed out, or acting out of character, they are not considered sober enough to engage in sexual contact. Having sexual contact with someone who is too drunk has the potential to negatively impact that individual. If you are ever uncertain whether your partner is sober-enough to consent, do not engage in sexual contact with them. Doing so is not worth the harm you may cause them. The responsibility to ensure that someone is sober enough to consent rests with the individual pursuing sexual contact. This responsibility does not change if both people are intoxicated. If you were sexually assaulted while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, know that what happened is not your fault. You are not responsible for someone else hurting you.
85% of the time people are sexually assaulted by someone that they know. Being sexually assaulted by someone that you know may feel confusing. Know, however, that you are not alone. What happened to you is not your fault.
Watch this video to learn more about what the Canadian Criminal Code says about consent.
Call our 24-Hour Support and Information Line for more information on sexual assault or for emotional support if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault.