What is Sexual Assault?

A definition of sexual assault is complex because assault can come in many forms, and be confusing for those who have survived it. The definition below is used in official documents of the Quebec Government and offers insight into the nature of sexual assault, but it is only survivors who can truly define it through what they have experienced.

Sexual assault is an act of a sexual nature, with or without physical contact, committed by an individual without the consent of the target person, or in certain cases, notably in those of children, involving affective manipulation or blackmail. It is an act aiming at subjecting somebody else to one’s own impulses by abuse of power, use of force or constraint, or by implicit or explicit threat. Sexual assault violates fundamental rights, in particular a person’s right to physical and psychological integrity and safety.
Government Action Plan Concerning Sexual Assault (Quebec, 2008, p. 9)

This definition applies regardless of the age, sex, culture, religion, and sexual orientation of the victim or attacker, the type of sexual assault committed, the place or environment in which it occurs, and the nature of the relationship between the victim and the offender.

About the Project

IT HAPPENS HERE is a college-wide initiative that seeks to raise awareness, stimulate discussion and develop strategies to reduce incidents of sexual assault, both on campus and within the broader community.


We will raise awareness by asking students, faculty and staff members to add their own markers to a map of sexual assaults in/around the Montreal area. The resulting map will help us all to visualize and appreciate the extent of the problem.

We will also invite community members to share personal stories or creations – e.g., poems, artwork, music, videos, etc. – relating to their experiences of sexual assault.

We will stimulate discussion by helping to coordinate workshops and schedule speakers, in cooperation with other college initiatives such as Social Science Week, our first International Women’s Week, and the annual CALL Festival.

We will strive to promote change by developing strategies to combat the problem of sexual assault, beginning with the drafting of a Dawson College Manifesto for Change.

You can reach us at ithappenshere@dawsoncollege.qc.ca.


The title IT HAPPENS HERE came out of a brainstorming session between some faculty and students of the Women’s/Gender Studies Certificate. Sexual assault does happen in our colleges, as it does in all of our society’s institutions. The title, though, says so much more: sexual assault happens, but so can awareness, support and change! All of that starts here!

This initiative is, at its essence, an educational project. According to Quebec Government statistics, one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. Two-thirds of victims are under 18. Sexual assault is a problem, therefore, that demands an educational approach – one that moves beyond the essential steps of making our school campuses safer and providing services to those who have been harmed. IT HAPPENS HERE presents a wider vision, including an educational commitment to: promote awareness; create safe places for survivors to tell their stories and be heard; and encourage college-wide reflection on the causes and solutions essential for change.

Storytelling plays a central role in our project, as its educational value is widely recognized. For those who have been harmed, bravely telling their story often begins a path towards healing; for others, including those who have (knowingly or unknowingly) perpetrated a sexual assault, listening to the stories of those impacted can be a powerful experience, provoking empathy and understanding of the effects of sexual violence.

It Happens Here Disclaimer


IT HAPPENS HERE is a project initiated by…

In partnership with

With support from the following departments at Dawson College:

Information Systems & Technology, Communications Office and the Dawson College Library

Further acknowledgements and sincere thanks to:

Diane Gauvin (Academic Dean), Andrea Cole (Dean of Special Areas of Study), Robert Cassidy (Dawson College Research Ethics Board, Chairperson), Donna Varrica (Coordinator of Communications), Jonathan Perlman (Information Systems & Technology), Elisabeth Roy (Communications Officer), Diana Rice (Dawson College Peace Centre), Ariel Swan (Coordinator, The Hive: Centre for Gender Advocacy), Hanna Arnason Mcneil (External Affairs, DSU), Jennifer Drummond (Coordinator, Sexual Assault Resource Centre, Concordia University), Joanne St. Lewis (Law Professor, University of Ottawa), Ann-Marie Roy (Deputy Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students), Michelle Smith (Faculty, Cin-Com), Cory Legassic (Faculty, New School), Vivien Catherine Luney-Watson & Michael Del Balso (Coordinators, Social Science Week) & the Women’s/Gender Studies Student Committee

IT HAPPENS HERE Focus Group: Sarah Beer (Faculty, Sociology), Jenna Benchetrit (Cin-Com), Tamara Boness (Faculty, Humanities), Téa Castrataro (Cin-Com), Julie Ciccone (Social Sciences), Catherine Duret (Liberal Arts), Simone Pageau-Timar (Cin-Com), Vidhisha Patel (Health Sciences), Gesche Peters (Faculty, History), Shayne Hontiverus (Cin-Com)

IT HAPPENS HERE Coordinating Committee: Greta Hofman-Nemiroff (Faculty, English, Humanities, & New School, retired), Pat Romano (Faculty, Humanities & Founder, Inspire Solutions), Kim Simard (Faculty, Cin/Com & Coordinator of Women’s/Gender Studies Certificate), and Claire Elliott (Reference Librarian, Dawson College Library)

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