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Because of the very harmful myths and silences around sexual assault and sexualized violence, collecting statistics is very challenging. Sexual assault statistics rely on police reports, general surveys, social services data, and other sources to try to paint a picture of the current situation regaring sexualized violence. We've summarized some key statistics below but please browse the references listed at the bottom of the page if you are interested in learning more.
- Rates of sexual assault in Canada are very high. Various studies have reported that one-in-six women (17%) to four-in-ten women (40%) have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. (1-3) The Victoria Women's Sexual Assault Centre reports that one-in-three women have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime.
- Men and boys can also be survivors of sexualized violence. One-in-six (17%) to one-in-three (33%) men will experience sexual abuse or sexual assault in their lifetime. (4)
- Amongst sexually active adolescent young women, 1/3 report experiencing physical or sexual violence from dating partners. (2)
- Because sexual assault is fundamentally about power, there are several groups that experience disproportionately high rates of sexual assault. Sex workers, immigrants and refugees, Aboriginal women, and women with disabilities have all been reported to experience higher rates of sexual assault than the figures reported above. (1,2,4) This is because of the way that systemic oppressions and power inequities further silence women and contribute to a culture that makes these assaults possible.
Police-reported sexual assault
Relying on police reports of sexual assaults is problematic because as many as 80-90% of all sexual offences are not reported to police. (1,5) Nevertheless, some police-reported statistics include:
- Over half (59% in 2008) of all victims of police-reported sexual assault are under the age of 18. Of these victims, 82% are female, resulting in rates of sexual assault five time higher for young women compared to young men. (5)
- In 2008, rates of sexual assault against youth was over 1.5 times higher than the rate for young adults aged 18-24. (5)
- Strangers are implicated in 10-20% of police-reported sexual assaults. (1,5) It is far more common for the survivor to know their assailant, as is the case with 75-90% of survivors. (1,2,5,6)
Alcohol and sexual assault
- Alcohol is by far the most common "date-rape" drug. (6)
- At least half of all sexual assaults are believed to involve alcohol consumption by the survivor, perpretrator, or both. (4)
- Amongst youth, on college campuses, 75% of male students and 55% of female students involved in sexual assaults had been drinking at the time of the assault. (2)
- Alcohol and substance use impacts young people's sexual decision-making and their experiences of positive sexuality as 89% of sexually active 15-24 year olds report mixing substance use and sexual activity and nearly one third (29%) say that while drinking, they have "done more" sexually than they had planned. (7)
- Nearly one quarter (23%) of sexually active 15-24 year olds reported having had unprotected sex because they were drinking or doing drugs. (7)
A note on false accusations
There are several powerful myths about false accusations - so-called "crying rape" - that contribute to a culture of shame and silence around sexual assault. According to Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN), only 2% of sexual assault charges are found to be false reports - similar to rates for other crimes - and yet people claim that these false reports are much higher. In other words, for no good reason whatsoever, "we are much more likely to disbelieve a woman if she says she was raped than if she was robbed". The fact is that a culture of silence and shame make sexual assault a hugely under-reported crime, not over-reported. The most important thing to remember is that if you or someone you know feels like their boundaries have been violated - regardless of what anyone else says - you have the right to support and healing. The "Get Help" menu above will help you find some information and resources.
References and more information
1. Victim Services and Crime Prevention Divison, B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. Sexual Assault Victim Service Worker Handbook. 2007. PDF available here.
2. Ending Violence Associaton of BC. Various fact sheets on several topics, including those listed above, available at: http://www.endingviolence.org/public_education_tools
3. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Netwrork (RAINN). Statistics page at: http://www.rainn.org/statistics
4. Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton. Sexual Assault & Related Statistics. Compiled January 2009. Extensive document of statistics available in .doc format here.
5. Statistics Canada. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series. Child and Youth Victims of Police-reported Violent Crime, 2008. 2008. PDF available here.
6. Sexualityandu.ca. Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault: The Hard Facts. Available at: http://www.sexualityandu.ca/adults/assault-1.aspx.
7. Kaiser Family Foundation. Sexual Activity and Substance Use Among Youth. 2002. Full coverage of the research here.