Not All Sexual Assaults Are Equal

Posted By: John Downs · 9/26/2012 5:17:00 PM

A woman is dragged into an alleyway and raped. Toronto police call that sexual assault.

A stranger fondles a woman's breast on an elevator. Toronto police call that sexual assault.

A drunk frosh kid grabs another student's butt while dancing at a campus pub. Toronto police call that sexual assault.

Campus security at Ryerson University is on high alert after a “string of recent sexual assaults.” Make no mistake:  At no time is it ever permissible for anyone to be violated in a sexual nature. But do we not run the risk of dulling the term “sexual assault” by using it as a catch-all for any uninvited sexual advances?

Under the current definition, I can say I've been “sexually assaulted” on Toronto streets by women, men ­— even a former boss. Although that last one was at work in plain view of all my other coworkers. I didn't run to HR to launch a suit.

I can only imagine how the victims of rape must feel when they hear news reports of sexual assaults of a relatively minor nature being lumped into the same category.

You have to wonder whether we're hearing about so many more sexual assaults these days because victims feel more comfortable about coming forward, or because we've so dramatically broadened the criteria. I would say it's the latter.

In an effort to collectively make a statement that we're no longer going to tolerate any form of violence against women, we've cheapened the definition. This began years ago when lawyers started using the word “assault” to include not only physical, but verbal and psychological forms of aggression. The word “abuse” has also become equally more prevalent in describing forms of victimization. Oh, and so has the word “victim” for that matter.

With these terms tossed around so liberally these days, have we not dampened their very intense meaning? And by doing so, is there not a chance that we'll all become desensitized to hearing them?

The solution here is not to discourage women from reporting any acts of uninvited sexual nature, but rather for police — and perhaps the media — to be more selective about how the acts are classified. When an athlete is sidelined, we're usually told why, and how long he or she is expected to be out of action.

We don't need to know the horrible details of how a woman was dragged, beaten and sexually violated. But surely there has to be a way to classify the severity of an assault as not to put a rape on par with a goosing.


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  1. StephenS_5505 posted on 09/27/2012 08:30 AM
    I can only imagine how the victims of rape must feel when they hear news reports of sexual assaults of a relatively minor nature being lumped into the same category

    Don't try an imagine another persons nightmare, you'll just fail.
    1. CoffeeCon posted on 09/28/2012 01:52 PM
      @StephenS_5505 The phrase means 'he doesn't know' how they would feel.
    2. Sethdar1012 posted on 09/28/2012 02:26 PM
      @StephenS_5505 Imagining the emotions of another person is empathy. Just because empathizing with the victim of a violent crime is difficult doesn't mean it's not worth doing.
    3. CoffeeCon posted on 10/04/2012 06:41 PM
      @Sethdar1012 Thats what you insulted the author for doing. This second post is correct.
  2. james marshall posted on 10/01/2012 03:37 PM
    Agravated sexual assault (rape), sexual assault (everything else). The law doesn't distinguish any more then that because that's the judges job in sentencing.
    1. Ronnie Amyot posted on 10/02/2012 12:45 AM
      @james marshall Mary Gowens was acquitted. Google for details. It cost her three years of her life, which she pledges to rebuild and one hundred thousand to a quarter million dollars, I bet
  3. Ronnie Amyot posted on 10/02/2012 12:40 AM
    Sexual Assault is not defined and therefore offends our Charter at section 7 which guarantees fundamental justice...specifically the rule against unclear and vague laws. The citizen must know when he is approaching criminal sanction. The court ruled that Sexual Assault is to offend someone's sexual integrity. Does anyone know what this means? Do we all have a different definition?
    Vic Towes, the Minister of Safety, suggested putting the word "rape" back into the criminal code. Karen Kane, THE BOSS, of the code and therefore our boss said, "NO!"
    Lawyers are in business to make money. They benefit. The Constitution with our Charter is our rules of engagement. If we, the people do not protect it, then the lawlessness we have now with sexual assault will grow and more Innocents will be jailed.
  4. DV posted on 10/02/2012 04:25 PM
    Maybe everyone should learn to keep their hands to themselves unless invited to touch. Also keeping sexual comments and innuendos to themselves as well. You have no idea what another person's experiences are and how they will react to your comments or "friendly" pat. What people seem to forget is a thing called respect and it appears to be sadly lacking in our society. So while you can argue the gravity of a certain action and whether or not it diminishes the concept of assault, sexual or otherwise, any undesired or uninvited conduct is an assault .
    1. AS posted on 10/03/2012 08:31 AM
      @DV @DV, stop the insanity! Political correctness has gone off the deep end! Redefine sexual assault so it does not criminalize the action of some drunk who cops a feel. Yes, it is wrong but let's work on education rather than punishment. John Downs is correct, if you look at the definition of sexual assault most of us have been "victims".
  5. Gary Joseph posted on 10/03/2012 12:31 PM
    John, I don't get the connection with an athlete out of action. I do agree with your basic premise. What is wrong with the word "rape"? It's succinctness describes violence culminating in vaginal, oral and anal penetration. As far as uninvited touching of private areas; this can be a terrifying experience for a person who is not as physically stong as the assaulter, and should be classified as major crime. Thanx, Gary
    1. CoffeeCon posted on 10/04/2012 06:46 PM
      @Gary Joseph I once had a recently released ex con grab me on the street at bloor and spadina, squeeze me in a bearhug out of the blue, grab my ass (? I'm a man) and threaten me sexually.

      It was weird and scary, but I didn't call the cops.. maybe I should have. He could well have gone on to do much worse. I give the example because that is a sexual assault, which would and should be prosecutable. I didn't really ever think about it in the intervening years till now, actually.
  6. Ronnie Amyot posted on 10/15/2012 08:20 AM
    Correction, Catherine(not Karen) Kane, is in charge of the criminal law policy section at Justice. To be informed on the subject, read
    Rape is a crime of violence. Touching may be anything from an expression of caring or affection, or an invitation for intimacy or an accident. Stopping at the first "No" was sufficient to stop a government (police) attack. Now, a touch is not even needed. Someone is offended and all hell breaks loose. It's insane..
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