Close to half of women (48 per cent) in Canada’s territories and nearly one-third of men (32 per cent) experienced inappropriate or unwanted sexual behaviour in a public space, in the workplace or online, according to 2018 data that Statistics Canada released on Wednesday morning.
In a public space, such as on the street, in a bar or restaurant or while using public transportation, 35 per cent of women in the territories said they had experienced at least one undesired sexual behaviour towards them. By comparison, 16 per cent of men reported the same.
Twenty-seven per cent of women and seven per cent of men reported being targetted by unwanted sexual attention defined by actions such as whistles, calls, gestures, stares or suggestive body language. Twenty-two per cent of women and 10 per cent of men said they had been subjected to unwanted touching.
One in four women and one in 10 men in the territories experienced this type of unwanted sexual behaviour more than twice in 2018.
“Compared with people who experienced one or two unwanted sexual behaviours in a public space, people who experienced them multiple times were more likely to report emotional or psychological impacts, or changes in their habits or behaviours,” the Statistics Canada report states. “Although no direct causal link can be established, they were also more likely to rate their mental health as poor or fair, to have low satisfaction with their lives, and to have seriously considered suicide.”
Yukon residents were the most likely to have been the target of unwanted sexual behaviours. In that territory, 41 per cent of women and 19 per cent of men said they experienced it. In the Northwest Territories, 38 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual behaviours in a public space, whereas in Nunavut, 25 per cent of women and 11 per cent of men said they endured such behaviour.
The incidents were more common in the capital cities of each territory, with the proportion of victims rising to 46 per cent in Yellowknife, 44 per cent in Iqaluit and 42 per cent in Whitehorse. The study attributes this to higher population density, a greater degree of anonymity and a greater number of public spaces.
Across the territories, 41 per cent of non-Indigenous women, 39 per cent of First Nations women, 41 per cent of Metis women and 29 per cent of Inuit women reported being the target of unwanted sexual behaviours. There was no statistically significant difference among men, however.
The lower rate among Inuit women was attributed to two possible factors: 83 per cent of Inuit women live outside the capital city, in small communities where most residents know each other. As well, some studies have suggested a “normalization of violence among some Inuit women” in a territory where the rate of sexual assaults is high, so some less serious unwanted sexual behaviours may not be perceived as having a violent nature, the analysis states.
In the workplace, 31 per cent of territorial women and 16 per cent of men said they were the targets of sexual jokes, touching, sexual attention or comments or insults because of gender or sexual orientation in 2018, the study revealed.
Among those who had used the internet over the previous 12 months, 24 per cent of territorial women and 16 per cent of men had experienced unwanted behaviours online. Threatening or aggressive emails as well as sexually suggestive or explicit images or messages were the most common forms of online harassment.