Scope of the Problem

Sexual violence is a pressing public health and safety issue.

We estimate that 1.8 million Albertans have experienced at least one incident of sexual violence in their lifetime.

The scope of the problem of sexual violence is particularly difficult to measure. There is no single source of data that can provide a comprehensive reflection of who perpetrates sexual violence, who experiences sexual violence, and the extent of its impact.

In an effort to advance research excellence in the area of sexual violence and to inform policy makers and service providers in evidence-based decision making, in 2020, AASAS released the findings of the Prevalence of Sexual Assault and Childhood Sexual Abuse in Alberta survey.

  • 43% of Albertans have experienced sexual violence – that is almost one in every two people!

Sexual violence is a pressing public health and safety issue that requires urgent and immediate attention and action.

Prevalence of Sexual Assault and Childhood Sexual Abuse in Alberta Infographic

Sexual assault services in Alberta are here to support all people who have experienced any form of sexual violence.

43% of Albertans have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Each and every one of us has a role to play in ending sexual violence.

LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP
While people of all ages experience sexual violence – including elders and seniors – children and young people experience the highest rates of sexual violence.

In Alberta, 34% of people experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Children of all genders experience high rates of sexual violence.

  • Just under one in two girls (44%) and one in four boys (24%) in Alberta have experienced child sexual abuse.

Most of the time children are sexually abused by someone they know and trust. Children are particularly vulnerable to abuse due to their physical and emotional dependence on adults, their isolation from community supports, and the persistence of the popular misconception that children are sexually abused by strangers. Visit our Child Sexual Abuse page for more information.

The rates at which women and girls are sexually abused and assaulted by men are staggering.

Sexual violence is a form of gender-based violence. Women and girls experience significantly higher rates of sexual violence than men and boys.

  • In Alberta, 41% of women experience sexual assault; compared to 17% of men.
  •  In Canada, 87% of police-reported sexual assault victims are women.
    • 52% of these police-reported sexual assault victims are young women between the ages of 12 – 24 years old.1
    • Nearly all (98%) of people charged by police with sexual assault are male.1

Sexual violence is not about sex, it is about power and control. Sexual violence is the result of power imbalances that stem from attitudes and beliefs about those who are valued in our society and those who are not. While many factors contribute to the prevalence of men’s violence against women, gender inequality is a root cause. Gender inequality is also a complex social issue that is perpetuated by gendered social norms, among other things.

Women and girls are consistently hyper-sexualized, objectified, demeaned, and dehumanized in sexist jokes and comments, in the media, in advertisements, music, television, movies, and video games. Sexual violence against women is trivialized and is often presented as entertainment or as a strategy to sell products. This messaging shapes harmful gendered stereotypes which inform gender roles. Gender roles offer a blueprint for how men and women interact with each other. When men and boys see the bodies of women portrayed in this way it reinforces harmful power dynamics that are the root cause of sexual violence.

The Anti-Violence Continuum/Pyramid Model was illustrated by Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse and shared with the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services through its partnership.

Some people experience sexual violence at even higher rates.

Sexual violence is not an isolated event that happens to a few individuals in a random, unpredictable way. Sexual violence is the consequence of a normalized pattern of behavior that is upheld by systems of oppression.

Oppressive attitudes and beliefs are the root cause of sexual violence.

When oppressive attitudes and beliefs are justified and normalized, people may go on to verbally and/or physically express themselves through violence in the form of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault.

Notice how systems of oppression such as sexism, colonialism, racism, ableism, and others are at the foundation of this pyramid.

Sexual violence is a crime of power and control.

Those who live at the intersections of these oppressive systems experience the highest rates of sexual violence.

This includes Indigenous women, Black women and women of colour, women living with disabilities, transgender women, queer and bisexual women, women living in poverty or engaged in sex work, and others.

This is not because they are innately vulnerable to sexual violence, but because oppressive attitudes and beliefs make it more likely that those who use abusive behaviours will choose to use violence against them. 

These same oppressive attitudes and beliefs make it so that these survivors are the least likely to be believed and supported, and the most likely to experience barriers when seeking support and justice.

Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA People

Alberta is home to several First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, and is held to account by numbered treaties, the largest territories of which are Treaty 6, 7, and 8. Alberta is also home to Métis Nations in regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The resiliency of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people is rooted deeply in culture, ancestry, and strength.

In the historical and ongoing process of colonization, Indigenous people were dehumanized. Colonialism and its impacts have lasted for generations in Canada and sexual violence has been used as a tool of colonial dominance, power, and control.

Colonists did not create sexual violence, but they have used it as a weapon to exert power and control over populations for centuries. Colonialism and sexual violence have similar roots – oppressive attitudes and beliefs. The same beliefs that justify the use of abusive behaviours are the ones that underpin colonial entitlement to take over the land and to undermine Indigenous ways of life.

European colonists settled on Turtle Island2 with ideas of civilization and expansion. Some of the tools they used to accomplish these goals were Residential Schools, the foster care system, and the Indian Act. These all have greatly impacted First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people and their cultures. Sexual assault and abuse, especially against Indigenous children, occurred in all of these systems and continues to this day.

Traditionally, Indigenous women have been honoured as equals and seen as sacred, holding positions of leadership and influence. Colonial notions which positioned women as ‘less than’ dramatically disrupted Indigenous social structures, the impacts of which persist to this day. The continued dehumanization and objectification of Indigenous women in particular, has led to disproportionally high rates of sexual violence.

  • More than one in five young Indigenous women are sexually assaulted in Canada.3
  • Indigenous women are more likely to experience multiple forms of violence, including sexual violence, as well as the most severe forms that result in serious physical injury and homicide.4

No one knows for sure how many Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or gone missing in Canada. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) sought to acknowledge and honour the memory of all Indigenous women and girls—including Indigenous people who are Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, queer, or non-binary, and those with disabilities or special needs—who are missing or who have lost their lives to violence.

The report released by the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, Reclaiming Power and Place, points to persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses as the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.5

The number of MMIWG was estimated to be 1,200 (for the years between 1980 and 2012) in the RCMP’s 2014 National Overview.6 Because of difficulties with the data behind the statistics, definitions and identification, and errors in reporting, the real number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is likely much higher.7 The general consensus is that the numbers are staggering.

Reclaiming Power and Place, along with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report prepared both Calls to Justice, and Calls to Action respectively, that we can follow. These calls ask us to reflect on, and to call out attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that harm others, specifically Indigenous People. Reconciliation begins internally, then moves outward. We all have the responsibility to educate ourselves and others, tell the hard truths about Canada’s history, and change the trajectory of our country.

2SLGBTQQIA People

Sexual violence affects people of every gender identity and sexual orientation. However, sexual violence is perpetrated against Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people at disproportionally higher rates.

  • Canadians aged 18 years and older who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are much more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be victims of violent crime – including physical and sexual assault.8
  • Bisexual women are at a higher risk for sexual assault than heterosexual women in Canada.8
  • Almost half of all transgender people (47%) have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, these rates are even higher for transgender people of colour and those who have done sex work, been homeless, or have (or had) a disability.9
  • Most transgender people were first assaulted as a child or youth.10
  • Most transgender survivors have experienced repeated sexual violence.10

Sexual violence is about power and control. Members of the 2SLGBTQQIA community experience various forms of discrimination and oppression – such as homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, and cissexism. These oppressive attitudes and beliefs are widespread and can manifest as discrimination, hate crime, sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Sexual violence motivated by this type of hatred is more likely to be violent and result in injuries than sexual violence committed against heterosexual individuals.11

Often, when people think of sexual violence they do so through a hetero- and cis-normative lens – male perpetrators and female victims. This contributes to the perceived invisibility of sexual violence against 2SLGBTQQIA people and to the resulting isolation that many survivors feel. Someone may not reach out for support because they are unsure about whether there is help available for them. Gender and sexually diverse survivors often experience additional barriers when seeking support or accessing justice. Not only do they struggle with feelings of confusion, guilt, and shame, along with the fear of not being believed, they may also worry about being outed, mis-gendered, or encountering homophobic or transphobic responses from support people and professionals.

Resources:

People Living with Disabilities

People living with disabilities are more likely to be sexually abused or assaulted than those without disabilities12. Consistent with patterns of sexual violence generally, there is a gendered aspect to sexual violence perpetrated against people living with a disability. In a group of over 5,000 women, those living with a disability were four times more likely to report having been sexually assaulted in the previous year.21 Women living with disabilities are also more likely to experience multiple forms of violence, more often.13

While women are at greater risk for sexual violence, men with an intellectual disability are sexually abused and assaulted more often than men without. However, this trend does not appear to hold across all men who have a disability.14 Many people living with a disability rely on others for help with mobility, toileting, eating, bathing, or other daily tasks. Sexual violence is most likely to be perpetrated against those with the greatest care or support needs. People living within residential or institutional settings are two to four times more likely to be sexually abused than people living with a disability in community.15

People with disabilities are consistently infantilized, devalued, and dehumanized. This makes it possible for others to minimize and justify their use of abusive behaviours against them. This choice is rooted in ableist attitudes and beliefs. Ableism is a set of discriminatory attitudes, beliefs, and practices that assign inferior value or worth to people with sensory, physical, and/or cognitive impairments.

People with disabilities are also desexualized or thought of as asexual. This can create a number of barriers for those seeking support after being sexually abused or assaulted. Quite often sexual violence goes unreported because it is not identified as abusive. When we do not teach people about healthy sexuality and consent, it is difficult to determine what is abusive. People with disabilities are often not offered comprehensive sexual health education. As a result, they may not know about consent or have the language/ability to describe what happened to them. There are a number of popular misconceptions about sexual violence. The misconception that people with disabilities are asexual increases the likelihood that survivors will not be believed when they disclose sexual violence.

A person’s dependence on someone who is sexually abusing them can also be the source of much fear and uncertainty. Fear of losing the care they need may be the reason someone does not disclose sexual violence. Many people living with disabilities are isolated from social supports and don’t necessarily have access to people they can disclose to. And if they do, verbal and/or written communication may also be a barrier to disclosure.

Boys and men also experience sexual violence.

Many boys and men who experience sexual violence choose never to reveal it, even to people they know and trust. Sexual violence against boys and men has long been shrouded in stigma, silence, and secrecy.

  • Children and adolescent boys experience higher rates of sexual violence than adult men. In Alberta, 24% of boys experience child sexual abuse and 17% of adult men experience sexual assault.
  • Men who are gay, transgender men,16 and men with disabilities,17 statistically experience higher rates of sexual violence.
  • When men are sexually assaulted, it is most often by another male.18

It’s difficult for boys and men to seek support and/or report if they have experienced sexual abuse, assault, or harassment. Sexual violence is often thought of as a women’s issue – something that boys and men perpetrate but do not experience.

There are several popular misconceptions  that make it challenging for boys and men to recognize their experiences as sexually abusive. These same misconceptions make it difficult for support people to believe male survivors. Boys and men are socialized to believe that they should always be pursuing, and always be welcoming of, sexual experiences. When they encounter a threatening experience, they should be strong enough to protect themselves. Gendered social norms also suggest that boys and men are to be stoic and that seeking help for anything is a sign of weakness and is therefore, not masculine.

As a result, male survivors often endure the traumatic impacts of sexual violence alone. Boys and men fear being disbelieved, ridiculed, and shamed, and in the case of heterosexual men, being perceived as gay. Male survivors are never to blame and they deserve to be believed and supported.

The vast majority of the time, people are sexually abused or assaulted by a male person that they know.

While anyone can commit an act of sexual violence, nearly all people charged by police with sexual assault are male (98%).18 The majority of people accused of sexual offenses against children and youth are also male (97%).19

In 87% of police-reported sexual assaults, the individual who was sexually assaulted knew the person who harmed them. 26% as a casual acquaintance or friend, 24% as a non-spousal family member, and 19% as an intimate partner. Only a small proportion (13%) were sexually assaulted by strangers.18

The same is true when it comes to child sexual abuse. In 2012, of the 14,000 police-reported cases of sexual offences against children and youth, 88% of all sexual offences were committed by an individual known to the child/youth, with the remaining 12% committed by strangers. Of those known, 38% were family members, 44% were acquaintances of the child/youth, and 6% were intimate partners of the youth.19

1Rotenburg, C. (2017). Police-reported sexual assaults in Canada, 2009-2014: A statistical profile. [Data set]. 

2For some Indigenous peoples, Turtle Island refers to the continent of North America. The name comes from various Indigenous oral histories that tell stories of a turtle that holds the world on its back. For some Indigenous peoples, the turtle is therefore considered an icon of life, and the story of Turtle Island consequently speaks to various spiritual and cultural beliefs.

3Conroy, S., & A. Cotter. (2017). Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014. [Data set]. 

4Brennan, S. (2011). Violent victimization of Aboriginal women in the Canadian provinces, 2009. [Date set].

5https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/

6Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview, 2014. Accessed August 11, 2017.

7http://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/ni-mmiwg-interim-report-revised.pdf

8Simpson, L. (2018). Violent victimization of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Canada, 2014. [Data set].

9James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Retrieved from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

10Munson, M., Cook-Daniels, L. (2015) Transgender sexual violence survivors: A self help guide to healing and understanding. Forge Transgender Sexual Violence Project

11Jaffray, B. (2020) Experiences of violence victimization and unwanted sexual behaviours among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other sexual minority people, and the transgender population, in Canada. Statistics Canada.

12Amborski, A. M., Bussieres, E., Vaillancourt-Morel, M. (2021). Sexual violence against persons with disabilities: A meta-analysis.

13Odette, F. (2012). Sexual assault and disabled women ten years after Jane Doe. In E. Sheehy (Ed.), Sexual assault in Canada. Ottawa. Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press.

14French, P. (2007). Disabled justice: The barriers to justice for a person with a disability in Queensland. Brisbane: Disability Studies and Research Institute for Queensland Advocacy Incorporated.

15Sobsey, D., & Mansell, S. (1994). An international perspective on patterns of sexual assault and abuse of people with disabilities. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 7(2), 153–178.

16Simpson, L. (2018). Violent victimization of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Canada, 2014. [Data set].

17Conroy, S., & A. Cotter. (2017). Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014. [Data set].

18Rotenburg, C. (2017). Police-reported sexual assaults in Canada, 2009-2014: A statistical profile. [Data set].

19Statistics Canada (2012). Police-reported sexual offences against children and youth in Canada. [Data set].