By Vicki Poulios, AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre
Sexual assault can happen to you or someone you know. It is all-too-common the world over and does happen at UBC.
People often think that violence or struggle needs to be present to define an experience as sexual assault. In Canada, sexual assault is defined as any form of unwanted contact of a sexual nature. According to the law, sexual assault is determined by whether consentâ€”voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activityâ€”was present or not.
Legally, consent is not present if someone:
- Says no, or shows theyâ€™re not into it (moving away or staying silent).
- Uses manipulation, pressure, threats or force.
- Lies to get what they want.
- Is drunk or high.
In other words, consent is only present when a person says â€śyesâ€ť through words or actions and this consent can be withdrawn at any time.
When sexual assault happens
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience. It affects a survivorâ€™s emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. Itâ€™s important to remember that each survivor is unique, will respond differently to what happened, and cope differently.
There is no right or wrong way to respond or cope with a sexual assault. Itâ€™s important to know that the victim is never to blame. Regardless of what a person is wearing or saying, or how they are behaving, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
Reporting the assault
Reporting a sexual assault can be an intimidating process. The reality is, most people who experience a sexual assault donâ€™t report it. There are many different reasons a survivor may choose to stay silent, but that doesnâ€™t make the experience any less traumatic. Whether reported or not, victims can still access support services from doctors and counsellors, without involving the police.
For those who do report a sexual assault, remember:
- There is no statute of limitations, which means an assault can be reported any time, no matter how much time has passed since the incident.
- Assaults can be reported anonymously or through a third party.
- Doctors may be able to collect forensic evidence if the victim visits within seven days. Hospitals will keep this evidence for up to a year and only release it to the police with your consent.
If you or someone you know has been assaulted, write down every detail of what happened. A written account helps preserve evidence (memories) of the incident for police.
Are you a silent bystander?
Everyone can play a part in curbing incidents of sexual assault. Though we are not all perpetrators, many people unwittingly contribute to the problem by playing the role of the silent bystander. What does that mean?
- Failure to interrupt or condemn jokes that are sexist, misogynistic, heterosexist, homophobic, and so on.
- Unwillingness to take time to learn about the nature of sexual assault.
- Unfairly questioning the behavior of the victim, not the offender.
As a society, we canâ€™t put an end to sexual assault unless we speak out against it, fully understand the extent of the problem, and shift responsibility to the perpetrator, not the victim.