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Sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence is a serious problem within militaries around the world, including here in Canada. Such incidents can have lasting and profound impacts on Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and Veterans, as well as their Families, the military institution and the broader public.

This page offers information related to incidents of sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence (formerly referred to as military sexual misconduct) and as well as the associated harms (military sexual trauma).

Resources for people impacted by military sexual trauma, Family members and friends, and for health care providers are also available.

Military sexual misconduct and military sexual trauma fact sheet

Military sexual misconduct

Incidents of sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence occurring during military service are commonly referred to as military sexual misconduct. For more information on the use of this term, check out our section on evolving language.

Sexual misconduct can include a spectrum of specific actions or behaviours that are harmful in nature, such as:

  • Actions or words that devalue you on the basis of your sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression
  • Jokes of a sexual nature, sexual remarks, advances of a sexual nature or verbal abuse of a sexual nature in the workplace
  • Harassment of a sexual nature, including initiation rites of a sexual nature
  • Viewing, accessing, distributing or displaying sexually explicit material in the workplace
  • Any Criminal Code offence of a sexual nature

Sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence can occur in your physical work location or in the greater work environment, such as work-related functions or activities with colleagues. It can occur while you are on or off duty, on or off base, deployed or not deployed.

Evolving language

The language around sexual harassment, discriminatory behaviours and sexual assault in the CAF continues to evolve. In December 2023, the Honourable Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of National Defence, announced the implementation of two key recommendations from the Arbour Report. These recommendations included changes to key terminology as well as the elimination of the term “sexual misconduct” from policy as the term lacks clarity.

We use the term “sexual misconduct” when referring to documents (including reports, resources and statistics) that predate December 2023, where the term was used to measure or report on key outcomes. In other instances, we use the phrasing “sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence” to include the spectrum of behaviours and actions. This alternate phrasing recognizes that Veterans impacted by military sexual trauma may use language that differs from formal reports and policy documents. To note, the term military sexual trauma is used within the CAF context specifically. There is no currently agreed-upon terminology to describe sexual trauma related to Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) service.

Military sexual trauma

Military sexual trauma (MST) is not a specific diagnosable condition, but rather a term that describes the psychological, physical and social “wounds” that people may feel after experiencing or witnessing sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence. MST is a broadly applied term to cover a range of impacts.

There is currently no single “official” definition of MST in Canada. According to the Glossary of terms: A shared understanding of the common terms used to describe psychological trauma, MST refers to “any sexual or sexualized activity that occurs without the person’s consent, during their service as a member of the CAF, and the physically or psychologically traumatic impacts of this activity on the affected person.”


Thousands of CAF members are impacted by sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence at some point during their career. If you are among those impacted, it is important to know that you are not alone.

Some of the following presented data is from the 2016, 2018 and 2022 Surveys on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. The survey, which is conducted for the CAF by Statistics Canada, categorizes sexual misconduct into three main categories:

  • Being sexually attacked
  • Experiencing unwanted sexual touching
  • Being engaged in sexual activity when you are unable to give your consent
  • Hearing sexual jokes or comments
  • Receiving unwanted sexual attention
  • Receiving or being shown offensive and sexually explicit content
  • Having sexually suggestive or explicit footage taken of you without your consent
  • Being deliberately exposed to someone’s private parts
  • Being pressured into unwanted sexual or romantic behaviours
  • Being subjected to comments and actions that discriminate against or devalue your being, based on your gender identity, sexual identity, sexual orientation or expression

It is difficult to understand the true scope and extent of the problem facing the military and Veterans. However, what we do know is that sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence is an underreported issue that disproportionately affects certain groups more than others.

Risk factors

Anyone can be impacted by sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence. However, you may be more targeted if you identify with certain groups. This is often linked to imbalances in power, which may be systemic, situational or both. Systemic imbalances arise from societal policies and practices that result in unfair disadvantages, barriers and/or harmful treatment, such as when one demographic or cultural group has more power in an organization’s structure than another. Not everyone who identifies with groups affected by systemic imbalances will be impacted by sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence.

Further, in no way do these factors suggest that you, as a person impacted by sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence, are responsible for what has happened. Responsibility for these incidents always falls on the perpetrator (or perpetrators).

The following groups experience increased targeting:

  • Women
  • Single people
  • Young people (< 39 years old)
  • Junior non-commissioned officers or junior officers
  • People with disabilities
  • 2SLGBTQIA+ people
  • Indigenous People
  • Racialized people

Disclosure and reporting

Our knowledge about sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence in the military and MST comes from what is reported. However, many individuals choose not to report incidents of military sexual misconduct that occur during service. The “official figures” may be just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Around 60% of sexual assault incidents go unreported.
  • Under half of unwanted sexualized or discriminatory behaviour incidents are reported.
  • Less than one-third of victims seek out professional support services following their sexual assault(s), with men being significantly less likely to do so than women.

A large percentage of incidents of sexual assault are not disclosed or reported due to many barriers, including:

  • Fear of negative career repercussions
  • Fear of not being believed
  • Fear of being removed from one’s unit or released from the military
  • Fear of lack of confidentiality
  • Fear that no change will result from formally reporting an incident or incidents

There is also a broad misconception that sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence is only committed against women by men. As such, added stigma and shame — over and above the trauma of assault itself — can be associated with people of the following identities, which may even be compounded when identities intersect:

  • Men
  • 2SLGBTQIA+ persons
  • Persons with disabilities
  • Indigenous People
  • Racialized people

Symptoms and reactions

If you have experienced sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence, you may react in different ways. There is no right way to feel or react.

You may have strong emotional and/or physical reactions or you may have a minimal reaction. You may experience a reaction right away or it may be delayed for a long time. You may suffer from a number of diagnosable mental health conditions, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression or from physical conditions. Your reactions may also be influenced by your gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, previous exposures to adversity or abuse, and other factors.

If you are experiencing impacts on your mental, emotional, physical and social well-being, you are not alone. The following is a list of common feelings, reactions and behaviours related to MST:

  • Anxiety and panic
  • Nightmares
  • Self-doubt
  • Sadness
  • Shame or guilt
  • Anger
  • Betrayal
  • Suspiciousness
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Numbness
  • Denial
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Distractibility
  • Memory problems
  • Loss of motivation
  • Fear
  • Anxiety disorders, including panic attacks
  • Acute stress or PTSD
  • Mood disorders such as major depression
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation (thoughts) or behaviours
  • Increased alcohol or drug use to cope with trauma symptoms, such as sleep disturbance, avoidance, change in mood, feelings of hypervigilance or decreased safety
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic pain
  • Digestive or gastrointestinal problems
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Reproductive health problems
  • Change in sexual arousal, performance and enjoyment
  • Pain during sex
  • Increased agitation, anger, or a change in mood that affects your relationships with Family, friends, colleagues and others
  • Difficulty trusting and feeling safe around others
  • Changes or difficulty engaging in social activities
  • Isolation or loneliness
  • Loss of faith or confidence in authority figures
  • Avoidance or increased dependence on certain individuals
  • Avoiding places, people, or situations, that remind you of the traumatic event(s)
  • Alienating or pushing away friends, Family and other individuals in your life
  • Absenteeism from work or taking extended time away from your job
  • Feeling forced to choose between your military career and continued contact with the perpetrator(s)
  • Divided loyalty to yourself, to your unit and to the military
  • Real or feared negative repercussions on your career and career progression, including removal from your unit or release from the military
  • Real or feared retaliation by peers and supervisors
  • Real or feared negative perceptions of you, including perceptions that you are “weak” or a “troublemaker”
  • Real or feared financial difficulties, including loss of income
  • Feeling or experiencing that reporting what happened will not make a difference


There is a lot to learn about MST, whether you are experiencing the effects yourself, have a loved one who has experienced MST or are providing treatment to Veterans impacted by it. Check out our other resources to learn more about MST.

Military sexual trauma resources

Supporting your loved one

It can be challenging to learn that someone you care about has experienced MST. There are different ways you can choose to support them, depending on your capacity and comfort levels. It is also important to take care of yourself and your own well-being.

We co-created a set of resources with some helpful information and practical guidance for friends and Family members. Check out these resources on our MST resources webpage. You can use these resources to:

  • Learn more about MST, how it can affect the Family and different ways to support your loved one
  • Understand how to react or respond as well as have a conversation about MST with your loved one
  • Gain insight on disclosing MST (with consent) to others, including children
  • Learn strategies for taking care of yourself and setting healthy boundaries


If you live with a mental or physical condition due to a service-related sexual trauma (e.g. PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.), you can apply to Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) for disability benefits. You may now be eligible for VAC disability benefits even if you have been denied in the past. Find out how to review or appeal a previous decision.


This information is adapted from a fact sheet provided courtesy of the Canadian Military Sexual Trauma Community of Practice (PDF, 72 KB), a collaboration of researchers, members of intermediary organizations, government departments and an MST stakeholder/peer support group.

Major contributions to this resource were provided by Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families, McMaster University, Veterans Affairs Canada and It’s Not Just 20K (INJ20K. We would like to acknowledge Tara Leach (The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre) for her contributions to the development of this resource.

The Atlas Institute does not provide mental health counselling or treatment. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 9-1-1 or refer to one of the resources listed.

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