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Significant spike in workplace sexual assaults in Canadian Armed Forces: Statistics Canada

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December 5, 2023
By Talent Canada

A candidate on the Patrol Pathfinder course awaits troops to approach for helicopter insertion in Isle-aux-Coudres, Qc, on September 10, 2021. Photo: MCpl Genevieve Lapointe, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, Canadian Armed Forces Photo

The rate of sexual assault in the Canadian Armed Forces has more than doubled, according to data released this morning by Statistics Canada.

In 2022, about 1,960 Regular Force members — or 3.5% — reported that they were sexually assaulted in the military workplace or outside of the workplace in an incident that involved CAF or other military members in the past 12 months.

This rate of sexual assault — which includes sexual attacks, unwanted sexual touching, and sexual activity where the victim was unable to consent — represents a significant increase from rates reported in 2018 (1.6%) and 2016 (1.7%) when previous iterations of the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (SSMCAF) were conducted.

Assault more common for women

Sexual assault was more prevalent among women (7.5%) than men (2.8%) in the Regular Force in 2022. This is consistent with previous findings, both among the military population and the general population. Relative to 2016 and 2018, this represented an increase for both women and men.


Sexual assault was also more prevalent among Regular Force members who are younger, who are Indigenous, who have a disability, or whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual.

Assaults unreported

Most (64%) victims of sexual assault did not report the incident they experienced to anyone in authority, while around one in six (16%) did not know if anyone in authority was aware of what happened.

Just over one in five (21%) Regular Force members who were sexually assaulted in 2022 stated that the incident was reported, a proportion that was lower than 2018 (25%) but not statistically different from 2016 (23%).

There was also a shift in the reasons why Regular Force members decided not to report the assault. In 2016 and 2018, the most common reason for not reporting a sexual assault was that the situation was resolved informally.

However, in 2022, the most common reason stated for not reporting was the belief that it would not make a difference, cited by 41% of Regular Force members who had been sexually assaulted. This was followed by fear of negative consequences (36%) and resolving the incident informally on their own (34%).

Bystanders intervening

Compared with 2018, a higher proportion of Regular Force members who witnessed sexualized or discriminatory behaviours in 2022 intervened. In 2022, more than half of Regular Force members who witnessed inappropriate sexual communication (54%), other sexualized behaviours (51%), or discriminatory behaviours (56%) intervened.

This was 10 percentage points higher than levels of bystander action in 2018 (44% of Regular Force members who witnessed inappropriate sexual communication intervened, 40% who witnessed other sexualized behaviours intervened, and 46% who witnessed discriminatory behaviours intervened).

The most common reason for not intervening was a perception that the behaviour was not serious enough. This was much more common in instances of inappropriate sexual communication (69%) than for other sexualized behaviours (47%) or discriminatory behaviours (47%).

Definitions of sexual misconduct

For the purposes of this survey, the military workplace was defined as anywhere on a base, wing, or ship, including barracks and messes, as well as deployments, temporary duty/attached posting, and training courses. The military workplace also included sanctioned events (events approved by the Chain of Command or someone in authority within a unit), such as parades, mess dinners, unit parties, unit sports activities, adventure training, or course parties.

Sexual assault

  • Sexual attack: Someone forced you or attempted to force you into any unwanted sexual activity, by threatening you, holding you down, or hurting you in some way.
  • Unwanted sexual touching: Someone touched you against your will in any sexual way, including unwanted touching or grabbing, kissing, or fondling.
  • Sexual activity where unable to consent: Someone subjected you to a sexual activity to which you were not able to consent, including being drugged, intoxicated, manipulated, or forced in ways other than physically.

Sexualized behaviours

Inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication

  • Sexual jokes
  • Unwanted sexual attention
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Inappropriate discussion about sex life.

Sexually explicit materials

  • Displaying, showing, or sending sexually explicit materials
  • Taking and/or posting inappropriate or sexually suggestive photos or videos of any CAF members without consent.

Physical contact or sexual relations

  • Indecent exposure or inappropriate display of body parts
  • Repeated pressure from the same person for dates or sexual relationships
  • Unwelcome physical contact or getting too close
  • Offering workplace benefits for engaging in sexual activity or being mistreated for not engaging in sexual activity.

Discriminatory behaviours

Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender

  • Suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act or a woman does not act like a woman is supposed to act
  • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because of their sex or gender
  • Comments that people are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because of their sex or gender.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity

  • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because of their sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation
  • Someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored, or excluded because they are (or are assumed to be) transgender.

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