Ontario Newsroom

Ontarians' Attitudes Toward Sexual Violence and Harassment Are Changing

Archived Backgrounder

Ontarians' Attitudes Toward Sexual Violence and Harassment Are Changing

Ministry of the Status of Women

The results are in: Ontarians' attitudes about sexual violence and harassment are changing.

Research shows that, since the launch of It's Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, Ontarians are rethinking what they should do if they witness sexual harassment or assault.

However, that same research shows that there is still work to do: many Ontarians still believe there is a 'grey area' when it comes to sexual violence and harassment.

Benchmark research

In early 2015, Ipsos Reid conducted a benchmark survey on behalf of the Ontario government as part of Ontario's a commitment to challenge existing attitudes, promote immediate change in rape culture behaviour and encourage a long-term generational shift. 

The data from Ipsos Reid will be made public as part of the government's Open Government strategy. 

The benchmark survey was conducted in February 2015, before the launch of the government's multi-media public education campaign, entitled #WhoWillYouHelp.

The campaign increased awareness and sparked discussions about sexual violence, not just in Ontario but around the globe.  To date, the hashtag has reached over 85 million people, with the video being viewed more than seven million times within the first 10 days. 

Shift in Ontarians' attitudes and behaviours

Follow-up research conducted six months later indicates that two-thirds of Ontarians surveyed recalled seeing the #WhoWillYouHelp campaign, and that it has made Ontarians re-think whether they have previously been a bystander of sexual harassment or assault.

Sean Simpson, Vice President of Ipsos Public Affairs, says that, "In public-opinion research, it is very rare to measure such a significant change in attitudes in such a short period of time. These results suggest that the Government of Ontario's campaign appears to be having a profound impact on the attitudes of Ontarians, and the belief that they have a role to play when witnessing acts of sexual harassment or violence". 

The number of Ontarians who strongly agree (58% up from 37%) that they have an obligation to intervene when witnessing sexual harassment has significantly increased.

General population

March 2015

September 2015

[Agree] I have an obligation to intervene if I witness...

Sexual assault: 83%

Sexual violence: 81%

Sexual harassment: 80%

Sexual assault: 90% 

Sexual violence: 92% 

Sexual harassment: 91% 

[Agree] If I witness [____] and don't intervene, I'm making the decision to allow it to continue.

Sexual assault: 77%

Sexual violence: 80%

Sexual harassment: 85%

Sexual assault: 83%

Sexual violence: 86%

Sexual harassment: 83%

When Ontarians were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement "men don't usually intend to force sex on a woman, but sometimes they get too sexually carried away", a number (37% down from 44%) of 18 to 29 year olds surveyed agreed. 

'Grey areas' a barrier to bystander intervention

This same research shows that while most Ontarians believe they have an obligation to intervene if they witness sexual violence or harassment, many believe there are 'grey areas' and that sometimes it is not clear if sexual violence or harassment has actually occurred.  These 'grey areas' are a barrier to bystander intervention.

The good news is that most Ontarians 'strongly agree' that they have an obligation to intervene if they witness sexual assault (59%) or sexual violence (64%), despite the lack of consensus on what constitutes sexual violence. 

Examples of the 'grey area' in recognizing sexual violence and harassment:

  • One in three (32%) Ontarians do not always believe that if someone sends along nude pictures of someone they know to a friend, it constitutes sexual violence/assault. In a hypothetical situation in which Ontarians witness such an act being committed, two in three (65%) say they definitely would intervene, while 35% would not definitely intervene.
  • Three in ten (28%) Ontarians do not always believe that if someone is physically active with another person who is very intoxicated and passing out, it constitutes sexual violence/assault. In a hypothetical situation in which Ontarians witness a man sitting next to a drunk woman and he begins to touch her, only six in ten (61%) would definitely intervene, meaning four in ten (39%) are not as sure.
  • When asked if a person spreading rumors about someone's sexuality constitutes harassment, one in four Ontarians (26 per cent) believe this sometimes constitutes harassment and 7 per cent think it never does.


An initial benchmark survey was conducted in March 2015 of 1,313 Ontarians (aged 18 and up), followed by another survey September 2015 of 1,500 Ontarians (aged 18 and up).  Respondents interviewed online via the Ipsos i-Say panel.  Quota sampling and weighting was employed to ensure that the sample reflected the population of Ontario.  

Additional Resources

Media Contacts



Education and Training Government Health and Wellness Home and Community Law and Safety Children and Youth Francophones Newcomers Parents Seniors Women