Sexual harassment, assault and abuse can happen anywhere. May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s critical to recognize and understand the warning signs of sexual harassment, cyberbullying and exploitation, as well as sexual abuse.

“It’s not always obvious when someone you love has been affected by sexual violence,” explained Lulu Paras-Fox, Patient Care Coordinator with Scarborough Health Network’s (SHN) Sexual Assault Domestic Violence Centre (SA/DVCC).

“Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, like a family member, friend, partners and others close to the victim,” she added.

But by knowing the warning signs, individuals can learn how to help. As someone outside of the relationship, you have the potential to notice warning signs that someone may be in an abusive relationship or at risk for sexual assault.

Emotional Effects

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Intimacy problems
  • Persistent Fear
  • Deviant behaviour
  • Self-doubt
  • Shame
  • Substance Abuse
  • Flashbacks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Suicidal Thoughts 

In addition, in some situations, the abusive partners will try to cut the victim off from their support system. Victims will become isolated and difficult to contact.

Physical Warning Signs

  • Withdrawing from friends
  • Limiting contact
  • Disclosing previous sexual abuse
  • Any mention their partner is refusing safe sex practices
  • Controlling partner
  • Visible signs of abuse (black eye, bruises)

We can all play an essential role in preventing sexual violence. Through active

bystander intervention, there are many ways that individuals can de-escalate a potentially harmful situations, including:

  • Create a distraction, and give the victim a chance to safety exit
  • Ask the victim directly if they need help, ensuring the perpetrator is not listening or nearby
  • Rally others to help you approach the situation
  • Extend support or an empathetic ear

*Note: You should never put your own safety at risk while attempting any of the above.

“It’s important we have insightful discussions around sexual violence and consent. By creating a culture of respect, inclusivity, and safety, we can help break down barriers, prevent dangerous situations and ultimately eliminate gender-based violence,” Paras-Fox said.

SHN’s Sexual Assault Domestic Violence Centre offers around-the-clock care, available to men, women and transgender individuals who are 12 years of age and older, who have been sexually assault or experienced intimate partner violence.

Learn more about SA/DVC and our services.