Institutions of higher education are environments at risk of sexual violence because of their scope, their activities, and the proximity they offer to students. Here is some relevant information to guide you if you’re wondering about the subject and would like to know what to do if you’re a victim or witness of sexual violence.

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence can occur in person, on the phone, in writing or on social networks, in front of others or in private. Here are a few examples to illustrate the scope of sexual violence.

  • The production, possession or distribution of sexual images or videos of a person without their consent.
  • Sexual comments or jokes about a person in front of them or behind their backs.
  • Unwanted calls, text messages, sext messages or e-mails with sexual connotations.
  • Questions about someone’s sex life who doesn’t want to share information.
  • Sharing one’s own sexual activities in front of others in a discussion on another topic.
  • Insistent and unwanted verbal advances or sexual proposals.
  • Non-verbal expressions such as unwanted touching, rubbing, or kissing.
  • Abusive and unwanted demonstration of love or sexual interest.
  • Threats of reward or consequence in exchange for sexual activity.
  • Physical sexual assault (touching, fondling, unwanted kisses) and rape.
  • Acts of voyeurism or exhibitionism.

This also includes the notion of sexual harassment, found in behaviours, words and gestures of a sexual nature that undermine a person’s dignity and psychological or physical integrity, and create a harmful environment. Harassment usually occurs repeatedly, but a single serious act can also constitute sexual harassment when the consequences are experienced on an ongoing basis by the victim.

THE CONCEPT OF CONSENT

In all situations involving sexual activity, consent is paramount.  Without consent, sexual activity is considered sexual violence.

There is no consent when:

  • Someone is unable to express themselves (they’re unconscious, intoxicated, etc.).
  • Someone expresses, through words or behaviour, disagreement with the sexual activity.
  • After having consented to the activity, the person expresses by words or behaviour, not wanting to continue the sexual activity.
  • The person consents out of fear, such as the fear of experiencing some form of violence if they refuse.
  • The person is in a pedagogical or authoritative relationship with respect to the other, or that a person may reasonably believe that such a pedagogical or authoritative relationship exists or may exist in the foreseeable future.
  • Consent is the result of an abuse of power.

For an easy-to-understand explanation watch this video (French) on consent. 

ACT TO PREVENT AND FIGHT SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS

A government law stipulates that every institution has the obligation to offer its community an environment free from violence of any kind, and to put in place measures to prevent, raise awareness, protect against and provide assistance for sexual violence. CEGEPs, colleges, and universities offer support services to students who have been victims of sexual violence or who have witnessed a situation where consent was not given. You can get support, file a complaint, or make a report at any time. As a witness, don’t hesitate to come forward even if the situation doesn’t concern you personally.


References

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Gouvernement du Québec. Loi visant à prévenir et à combattre les violences à caractère sexuel dans les établissements d’enseignement supérieur

Institut national de la recherche scientifique. Les violences à caractère sexuel, c’est quoi?

Jeunesse j’écoute. (2023) Le consentement et pourquoi il est si important?

Université de Montréal. Qu’est-ce qu’une inconduite ou une violence à caractère sexuel?

Credits

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Illustration : Mario Fontaine

Contribution to the article : Isabelle Queval, psychologist

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