CHAPTER 16 – SEXUAL C OERCION
SEXUAL A SSAULT
In the last two decades, there has been a movement towards seeing crimes involving
force in sexual relations as crimes of violence and victimization rather than as sex crimes.
Prior to 1983, the Criminal Code had 4 sections that prohibited forced sexual activity,
identified as rape, attempted rape, indecent assault against a female, and indecent assault
against a male.
At the time, the legal definition of rape was heterosexual intercourse by a man with a
woman who was not his wife: 1) limited to heterosexual intercourse, 2) women could not
be charged and men could not be victims, 3) husbands could not be charged with raping
their wives, and 4) the victims previous sexual activity could be considered as evidence
of her consent and as credibility of her testimony.
Rape complaints that were not made immediately after the attack were invalidated.
Criminal Code amended in 1983: three genderneutral crimes of assault were created
(depended on the amount of force used to carry out the assault and the degree of injury
sustained by the victim – not on the nature of the forced sexual activity).
Purpose was to 1) deemphasize the sexual nature of the offence, 2) stress the violent
nature, 3) encourage victims to report these crimes, and 4) to improve the court procedure
to reduce trauma to victims and increase the rat of convictions.
Three levels of sexual assault: sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon causing
serious injury or endangering the life of the victim or causing bodily harm, and
aggravated sexual assault.
Sexual Assault: any nonconsensual activity ranging from unwanted touching, to forced
oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse, to sexual violence in which the victim is wounded or
maimed or his or her life is endangered or when the victim is incapable of giving consent.
The law is written in genderneutral terms and no longer discriminates against married
Silence, inaction, or ambiguous conduct is not considered consent.
39% of women report having been sexually assaulted by a man since the age of 16.
Only 8% of sexual assault victims reported the crime to the police.
Reasons women did not report their sexual assault to police: did not believe police
could do anything, wanted to keep the event private, feeling ashamed or embarrassed,
being afraid of not being believed, fearing the perpetrator, and not wanting the perpetrator
to be arrested.
One study found that women with disabilities are 4 times as likely to experience sexual
According to the NHSLS, 1% of men reported having been the victims of forced sex
with a woman; 22% of women reported having been the victims of forced sex with a
More common for a man to have been forced to have sex by another man (1.9% of men)
than by a woman (1.3% of men).
1.8% of women but only 0.3 % of men reported that someone had touched them against their will in the previous 12 months.
0.7% of women and 0.2 % of men reported that their partner had forced them to engage
in unwanted sexual activity by threatening them, holding them down, or hurting them in
Sexual Assault of Women by Acquaintances:
Sexual assault by someone who is known to the victim, often called “date rape” or
sexual assault by an acquaintance, is much more frequent than sexual assault by a
Many women do not report their sexual assault to the police.
48% of University women reported having experienced coerced sexual activity
involving pressure or force (Ontario study).
44% of middle school and high school girls reported having had a sexually coercive
experience with a boyfriend; 17% of boys reported that they had been sexually abusive
(New Brunswick study).
Many women do not recognize that what happened to them was sexual assault because
it happened in a dating situation.
Sexual coercion by a dating partner is associated with higher depression, lower self
esteem, and more negative sexual selfperceptions.
Many men still hold the traditional view that a woman who says no really means “yes”.
Two factors seem to explain why sexually aggressive men misperceive women’s
communication: 1) men in general tend to misperceive women’s warmth and friendliness
as indicating sexual interest. 2) Sexually aggressive men tend to have a “suspicious
schema,” meaning that they generally believe that women do not communicate honestly
(particularly when rejecting an advance).
The second finding has important implications for prevention and treatment programs
for sexual aggressors.
Three major types of “daterape drugs”:
1) Rohypnol (“roofie”) the drug name for flunitrazepam.
Causes drowsiness or sleep.
Also causes the woman not to remember the event the next day.
2) GHB the drug name for gamma hydroxyl butyrate.
Produces similar effects to alcohol but can cause hallucinations in larger doses and
when mixed with alcohol can lead to a loss of consciousness.
3) Ketamine causes a combination of amnesia and hallucinations.
Ecstasy and Foxy Methoxy are also sometimes used as a daterape drug.
Spousal Sexual Assault of Women:
Spousal Sexual Assault: the sexual assault of a person by his or her current or former
marital or commonlaw spouse.
Violence Against Women Survey found that 8% of respondents had been sexually
assaulted by a current or former spouse.
3% of women reported having been sexually assaulted by their spouse in the previous
A man might sexually assault his female partner for many motives, including anger,
power and domination, sadism, or a desire for sex regardless if she is willing. Some sexual assaults occur because the man believes his female partner “owes” him
The Impact of Sexual Assault on Women:
Sexual assault is a time of crisis for a woman and the effects on many victims persist for
a year or more.
High levels of distress generally reach a peak three weeks after the assault and continue
at a high level for the next month (then gradual improvement beginning 2 or 3 months
after the assault).
Assaulted women continue to report more fear, anxiety, selfesteem problems, and
sexual problems (may persist for 18 months or longer).
Some women experience selfblame: may not actually blame themselves for the event
(cognitive selfblame) but may experience emotional selfblame.
Selfblame is a result of a tendency on the part of society to blame the victim and
excuse the perpetrator and is linked to worse longterm psychological outcomes for
In about 5% of cases involving forced intercourse, pregnancy results.
Women who have been sexually or physically assaulted at some time in the past visit
their physician twice as often per year as nonvictimized women.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): longterm psychological distress suffered by
someone who has experienced a terrifying event.
Schemas also affect how we interpret new events, so the consequences are farreaching
and long lasting.
The strongest predictors of which sexual assault survivors develop PTSD are negative
reactions and lack of support from others and avoidance coping (avoiding thinking about
and resolving the issue).
Sexual assault affects many people in addition to the victim – women in general,
partners of victims, and the victim’s friends.
Posttraumatic growth: positive life changes and psychological development
following exposure to trauma.
Some sexual assault survivors experience positive life changes such as an increased
ability to take care of themselves, a greater sense of purpose in life, and greater concern
for others in similar situations.
Causes of Sexual Assault Against Women:
Four Major Theoretical Views of Sexual Assault
1) VictimPrecipitated Sexual Assault
Caused by a woman “asking for it”
“Blame the victim”
2) Psychopathology of Sex Offenders
Act committed by a psychologically disturbed man.
Product of genderrole socialization in our culture, which reinforces and legitimizes
male aggression in general and sexual coercion specifically.
Links between sex and power.
Gender inequality is both the cause and the result of sexual assault.
4) Social Disorganization Crime rates, including sexual assault rates, increase after disruption to the social
organization of a community.
Factors that contribute to sexual assault: cultural values, sexual scripts, early family
influences, peergroup influences, characteristics of the situation, miscommunication, sex
and power motives, and masculinity norms and men’s attitudes.
For specific examples and statistics concerning the traits read page 461.
Men who are Sexually Aggressive Against Women:
Tend to be repeat offenders.
Repeat offenders tend to average about six sexual assaults each.
Men who commit sexual assault tend to have the following characteristics:
1. – Hold a number of social cognitions or “implicit theories” that support sexual assault.
Believe that women are sexual objects, that women are dangerous and deceptive, that
the world in general is dangerous, and that certain behaviours are uncontrollable in the
face of strong urges.
A sense of entitlement involving male superiority and control.
2. – More likely to have had brain injuries as a child.
Only about 4% of men who have committed sexual assault have had traumatic brain
3. – Characterized by poor inhibition and selfregulation.
Unable to inhibit aggressive impulses.
4. Lack empathy – they fail to understand the suffering that a sexual assault victim
5. May have experienced environmental triggers, such as being in a war.
These findings have important implications for programs of therapy aimed at reducing
the chance of men convicted of sexual assault reoffending.
Ethnicity and Sexual Assault Against Women:
Cultural context can promote or inhibit sexual assault.
Important to consider the incidence of sexual assault in Canadian ethnocultural
Sexual Assault Against Men:
In 2000 only 1.5% of adults convicted of sexual assault were women.
In 2008, only 10 men reported a sexual assault to the police.
In one study 20% of a sample of gay and bisexual men reported having experienced
unwanted sexual intercourse resulting from threats or use of force as an adult.
Research shows that men may respond with an erection in emotional states such as
anger and terror.
In a study of 115 who had been sexually assaulted, 7% had been assaulted by a woman
or group of women and an additional 6% by both a man and a woman.
19% of men had experienced unwilling sexual activity in the previous year; 9 percent of
women reported having used sexual coercion.
Further, 14% of men who had experienced sexual coercion were extremely upset by the
incident (New Brunswick study).
New Brunswick middle school and high school students: 33% of boys reported that they had been sexually abusive; 5% of girls reported that they had been sexually abusive; only
19% of these boys were upset by the experience.
In 20% of couples, sexual coercion is reciprocal (Quebec study).
Verbal forms of pressure or ignoring requests to stop are most common.
Many women believe the stereotype that men are always interested in sex.
58% of men and 78% of women reported being the objects of sexual persistence after
they had refused sexual advances (University sample).
Male victims tend to be blamed more harshly for their victimization then female victims
and female perpetrators blamed more leniently for their behaviour than male perpetrators.
Sexual coercion is a pervasive problem in relationships of men who have sex with men.
Men who have been sexually assaulted by other men can experience very negative
behavioural and psychological consequences.
Sexual Assault in Prison:
22% of men and 7% of women had been objects of sexual coercion (U.S. Prison study).
Prison staff were the perpetrators in 18% of the cases.
Among the male victims, 53% had been forced to have receptive anal sex, sometimes
with multiple male perpetrators, and 8% were forced to have receptive oral sex.
Expression of power and aggression.
Used as a means of establishing a dominance hierarchy.
Preventing Sexual Assault:
Radical change in the way society socializes men is needed.
Need prevention programs aimed at changing attitudes that contribute to sexual assault.
Stress the importance of obtaining verbal consent as well as to provide behavioural
strategies for doing so.
Programs need to foster a climate in which sexually coercive behaviour is seen as
unacceptable in such a way that men do not perceive the presenters to be “male bashing”.
Need to teach women to be vigilant as well as to empower women to be more assertive
in communicating their nonconsent.
These strategies fall into 2 categories: (1) avoiding situations in which there is a high
risk of sexual assault; and (2) if the first strategy has failed, knowing some selfdefense
techniques if a sexual assault is actually made.
Research shows that fighting back – fighting, yelling, and fleeing – increases a woman’s
likelihood of thwarting a sexual assault attempt.
C HILD SEXUAL ABUSE
Laws that seek to prevent the sexual exploitation of children and young people were
amended in 1985.
Prior to 1985, there was an offence for sexual intercourse with a female under 14.
There were also offences for seduction of a female 16 – 18 years old “of previous chaste
The current provisions are genderneutral and based on a combination of age, whether
the accused is in a position of trust, and the specific activities that occurred.
The age of consent is normally 16.
However, a child who is 14 or 15 years old can legally have sex with someone who is less than 5 years older than him or her.
The age of consent for anal intercourse is 18.
The age of consent is also higher is the adult is in a position of trust or authority with a
child, such as a teacher or sports coach.
It is an offence for a person in a position of trust to have sex with a child who is under
18 years old, whether or not the child consents to it.
The Criminal Code includes a law against incest – prohibits sexual intercourse with a