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May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month

May 29, 2024

As Sexual Assault Prevention Month draws to a close, the Office of the Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) reemphasizes the importance of taking action to help prevent sexual assault.

In Canada, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence in their life.1 Sexual violence affects people from all walks of life and intersects with other forms of discrimination. Indigenous women, members of 2SLGBTQI+ communities, individuals with disabilities, and other marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, often facing multiple barriers to accessing justice and support.

Sexual violence prevention means addressing the root causes of sexual violence and the systemic, institutional, and personal actions that enable sexual violence to occur, often unpunished.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is rooted in colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and inequality. We acknowledge the need to enforce decolonial practice and anti-racism in consent education practices. We also recognize the need to address the disproportionate rate of sexual violence towards people living with disabilities through a disability justice lens. We must address ALL forms of oppression simultaneously to end sexual violence.

What we've heard

Victims and survivors of sexual assault have said reporting to the police and navigating the criminal justice system might in some cases be more traumatizing than the assault itself. Sexual assault is among the crimes which are least likely to be reported to the police: statistics show that 78% of sexual assaults are not reported.2

As well, section 278.1 of the Criminal Code may infringe on privacy rights, causing some victims to fear accessing vital mental health services. Therapy and journaling about trauma is not evidence.

The OFOVC has also heard from Gymnasts for Change Canada about the urgent need to promote consent in sports as rape culture continues to manifest itself at all levels in this field, often with very few consequences for abusers. While the government stopped short of launching a national inquiry, a federal commission will investigate systemic abuse and human rights violations in Canadian sports.

We must also address the pressing issue of online sexual violence or technology-facilitated gender-based violence, something youth especially are facing every day with the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, grooming, harassment, and sextortion. This form of victimization disproportionately affects boys and young men.3

What we are doing

In February 2024, the OFOVC launched a national systemic investigation into the experiences of sexual assault survivors in the criminal justice system. This investigation will provide actionable recommendations to ensure survivors are treated with compassion and respect, and their rights are being upheld. Anyone who would like to participate can email the OFOVC at victimsfirst@ombudsperson.ca . We are meeting with survivors and stakeholders and plan to launch an anonymous survey this summer. For more information, follow us on our social media channels or visit our website at www.victimsfirst.gc.ca .

Thank you to survivors who have continued to contact the OFOVC and shared their experiences, resilience and strength. You deserve to feel safe, be heard and have access to the support you need. We would like to emphasize that we welcome anyone who reaches out to us, whether they reported or not. Your experiences will help inform our work to improve the system.

Sexual violence remains all-too pervasive in our society, and we share a collective responsibility to prevent it and support survivors.