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Sexual Abuse or Assault

Topic overview

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Sexual abuse or assault can happen to anyone. The assailant (or abuser) may be a stranger, someone you know, a close friend, partner or ex-partner, or a family member. Many victims of abuse or assault know their assailant.


If sexual abuse or sexual assault happened to you, you are not to blame. It may be hard to tell s​omeone. You may feel shame or guilt and be too afraid of the assailant to say anything. But it’s important to get help.

Talk to a doctor, nurse, counsellor, the police, or call your local sexual assault centre. These professionals can help you get medical treatment and tell you what to do if you choose to report the abuse or assault. They can also help you deal with your feelings and start to recover.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual act or behaviour forced on a person without their consent (permission). This means you did not give consent, or you weren’t able to give consent.

The assailant may use threats, violence, force, or drugs or alcohol to prevent a person from being able to react to, resist, or remember the assault. Sexual assault includes:

  • forced sexual intercourse (sometimes called rape)
  • forced oral sex
  • placing an object into the vagina or anus without consent
  • unwanted sexual touching or fondling

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when someone in a position of power or authority (such as a parent, teacher, or coach) takes advantage of a person’s trust and respect to get them to take part in sexual activity.

Sexual abuse may happen over and over, or it may happen one time. It can involve any type of behaviour or act that is a sexual assault. Sexual abuse is also forcing a person to:

  • look at a naked body or naked genital area
  • show their own naked body
  • watch, look at, or take part in sexual pictures or movies
  • watch a sexual act, such as masturbation
  • touch or be touched (fondled)​​

Current as of: February 14, 2024

Author: Sexual and Reproductive Health Services, Alberta Health Services