Glossary and Definitions

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is a crime of brutality and intimidation. Sexual assault is any act that invades an individual’s sexual privacy. Sexual assault may range from verbal obscenities to rape. It is an act of power and control over the victim. Sexual assault is a crime of violence because the victim is subjected to the aggression of the assailant. It is not a crime of sex. The feelings associated with sexual assault are disgust, shame, humiliation and powerlessness. It not only violates someone physically but may also affect a person’s sense of safety and ability to control their own life.

Simple Sexual Assault

Simple Sexual Assault is found in section 271 (1) of the Criminal Code. It is considered to be any attack of a sexual nature (i.e. kissing, touching, intercourse, etc.) in which force (i.e. coercion, threats of harm to victim or victim’s loved ones, physical harm, etc.) is used. No physical injury is necessary to prove that an offence has occurred. When tried as an indictable offence, simple sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Sexual Assault with a Weapon

Sexual Assault with a Weapon, Threats to a Third Party or Causing Bodily Harm is found in section 272 of the Criminal Code. There may be more than one assailant and/or the assailant uses, carries, or threatens to use, a weapon (imitation or real) during the commission of the offence. It also includes sexual assaults in which the assailant threatens to harm, or actually causes harm, to a third person. The maximum penalty for sexual assault With a Weapon, Threats to a Third Party or Causing Bodily Harm is 14 years imprisonment.

Aggravated Sexual Assault

Aggravated Sexual Assault is found in section 273 (1) of the Criminal Code. It is a sexual assault in which the victim is wounded, maimed, disfigured, brutally beaten, or in danger of losing her/his life. The maximum penalty for Aggravated Sexual Assault is life imprisonment.

Historical Sexual Assault

Historical Sexual Assault is a term commonly used by service providers to describe a sexual assault that has occurred in the distant past.

Criminal Harassment (Stalking)

Criminal Harassment (stalking) is found in section 264 of the Criminal Code. It prohibits the following conduct from occurring:

  1. repeatedly following a specific person or someone connected to that person.
  2. repeatedly communicating with a specific person or someone connected to him/her.
  3. watching a residence, place of work, etc. where a specific person lives or works or doing the same to someone connected to that person.
  4. engaging in threatening conduct directed at a specific person or anyone connected to that person.

If any of these activities causes a person to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone connected to him/her, it is considered to be a criminal harassment and is a criminal offence.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is any behaviour, comment or gesture of a sexual nature which is deemed to be offensive. It is unwanted behaviour that makes the receiver feel uncomfortable. It can be coercive or subtle in nature. Sexual harassment is an abuse of power and is often used as a way of controlling or intimidating someone. Sexual harassment can happen in schools, universities, workplaces or even on the street. Some examples of sexual harassment would be… threats/intimidation, untrue sexual comments said about a person, remarks about a person’s sexual identity (i.e. gay bashing), displaying sexist or demeaning pictures, etc.


Incest is a type of sexual assault in which the perpetrator is a parent, sibling, or any other family member. This list also includes step-parents, common-law partners, boyfriends of relatives, etc.

Date/ Acquaintance Sexual Assault (Date Rape)

In many cases of sexual assault, the offender is dating the victim/survivor when the assault(s) occur. This is commonly called date rape. In other cases the offender is someone known to the victim/survivor. This is known as acquaintance rape. These crimes tend to be ignored, denied or not treated as seriously as other sexual assaults because the offender is known by the victim/survivor.

Stranger Rape

Stranger Rape involves being attacked and sexually assaulted by someone you do not know.

Gang Rape

Gang Rape is being sexually assaulted by more than one person during the assault. This type of sexual assault is most common on university campuses.

Child Abuse

Child Abuse refers to the physical, sexual or emotional abuse of a person under the age of sixteen. It may also include situations in which a child is being neglected or exposed to violence in the home.

– Anyone who has knowledge or suspicion of child abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual in nature) is required by The Children and Family Services Act of Nova Scotia to report that knowledge or suspicion to the nearest Child Protection Agency. In emergency situations this information may be reported to the nearest police department.

Sexual Exploitation

Sexual Exploitation occurs when one person takes advantage of the sexuality and/or attractiveness of another person to make a personal gain (i.e. pornography, prostitution, media advertising).

Psychological Sexual Violence

Psychological Sexual Violence involves being controlled by someone else because of threats of sexual violence (i.e. “if you date someone else I will rape you” or “If you break up with me I’ll rape your younger sister”, etc.)

Marital Rape

Marital Rape is sexual assault. It is any sexual activity that is performed (by a legal spouse) or caused to be performed, without the consent of the other spouse. It is a criminal offence.

Same Sex Sexual Assault

Same Sex Sexual Assault occurs when a man forces another man or a woman forces another woman into unwanted sexual activity.

Gay Bashing

Gay Bashing is emotional, physical, or sexual violence committed against people because they are, or are perceived to be, gay or lesbian.

Heterosexist Control

Heterosexist Control is the threat to expose someone for being a lesbian, gay, or bisexual to family, friends, coworkers, etc.

Ritual Abuse

Ritual Abuse involves abuse of children, adolescents, and adults, consisting of sexual, physical and psychological abuse, and involving the use of rituals. Summary offence: In relation to sexual assault crimes, an offence punishable by a prison term not exceeding 18 months.

Indictable offence:

In relation to sexual assault crimes, an offence punishable by a prison term exceeding 18 months, and up to and including life in prison.


The following terms will familiarize you with the context within which feminist service providers who work with individuals who have experienced sexual violence operate.


Someone who has experienced some form of trauma, be it emotional, sexual, psychological or physical. Someone who is immobilized or prevented from living a life similar to his/her life prior to the trauma. This person is in a victimized state.


Someone who has been victimized but is healing and beginning to cope with the trauma and is working towards getting beyond the traumatic event.


While no one can completely get over or forget a traumatic event, a thriver is someone who has gone through the various stages of healing to get beyond trauma and is able to function and participate in life in a meaningful way.


The process of getting beyond trauma. There are levels or stages of healing that people experience. People heal or overcome trauma in different ways and at different speeds.


Any unwanted or forced sexual act committed against a person without their consent. Replaced rape as a definition in the criminal code in 1982.


Used to describe a pattern of sexual violations which often occurs over a period of time.


Any comment, gesture, or behaviour with a sexual context that can be considered offensive, or degrading to the recipient.


An umbrella term for sexual assault, abuse and harassment, etc. Used to indicate the vastness and all encompassing impact unwanted sexual acts can have on the individual and on a society.


Indicates the philosophies, techniques, and approaches that Avalon Centre uses to work with women, trans* individuals, and the community to identify and address the needs of the individual or community. We work with what the individual or community identifies as needs and not on what we as an agency may feel are the needs. This takes into consideration the strengths and limitations of the individual or community and returns control, choice and power to the individual/community.


Avalon Sexual Assault Centre’s counselling and therapy programs are based on feminist counselling principles. This means that they are collaborative, woman and trans* centered and based on equality. Feminist counselling principles are sensitive to the needs, strengths and limitations of women and trans* people based on personal circumstances, age, ethnicity, etc., and recognizes and celebrates the strengths and needs of women.


All people receiving the same respect, quality of life and access to service regardless of sex, age, sexual orientation, ability/disability, race or ethnicity, religious beliefs, class, social economic status, education and personal circumstances.


Patriarchy refers to the current societal framework, the structure of which has historically kept men in positions of power and authority in society, and has encouraged the domination of other nations, races and cultures of people for economic and political gain. By definition, one aspect of patriarchy places women and trans* people in an inferior and subservient role to men: under this system, women and trans’ sexual, financial and personal autonomy has been suppressed.


Refers to a service in which information about the individual who uses the service is disclosed only if permission is given by that individual, or it is subpoenaed by the criminal justice system. We are committed to supporting clients in making their own decisions about their healing and their lives. We do not tell clients what to do or pass judgment on their circumstances or decisions. Our goal through counselling is to help clients achieve autonomy and empowerment on their own terms.


Culturally specific set of characteristics that identify the social behaviour of individuals, the relationship between them, the way this relationship is socially constructed, and the way individuals are treated or viewed.


A counselling, therapeutic, or educational approach that recognizes that individuals or groups have a starting point or begin with a certain level of readiness or understanding and progress at their own pace and time. Growth takes place when individuals or groups are ready to move forward.