Sexual Abuse

Terminology Notice: Throughout the OCSWSSW’s website and documents, the term “member” and “registrant” are used interchangeably and synonymously as equivalent to the term “member” as used in the Social Work and Social Service Work Act, 1998, and the Regulations.

The mandate of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers is to protect the public interest. As regulated professionals, College members are required to maintain professional boundaries at all times. Sexual contact between College members and clients erodes the public’s trust in the profession and is strictly forbidden.

It does not matter if a client expressed consent or “agreed” to sexual contact. Any form of sexual abuse between a client and College member is an extremely serious form of professional misconduct that can result in penalties up to and including the loss of registration with the College.

Related FAQs
  • The term “sexual abuse” in the context of a College registrant and a client has a specific legal meaning under the College’s governing legislation. Sexual abuse of a client includes:

    • Sexual intercourse or other forms of physical sexual relations between a College member and a client.
    • Touching a client in a sexual manner (e.g., touching a client’s breasts or genitals).
    • Behaviour of a sexual nature towards a client (e.g., touching a client’s hand unnecessarily and in a manner that implies a sexual interest in the client or displaying sexualized materials in an office for no clinical purpose).
    • Remarks of a sexual nature towards a client (e.g., commenting on the size of a client’s breasts or genitals, asking a client out on a date or using words that are sexually suggestive).
  • Boundaries define the set of roles and expectations for College registrants and their clients. The relationship between a College registrant and a client is a professional one that is centred around the client receiving care from the College registrant.

    The College registrant has a professional obligation to maintain professional boundaries and ensure that the needs of the client are paramount at all times. In short, professional boundaries require a registrant to only have a professional relationship with their client.  When a registrant engages in conduct with a client that falls outside what is required by the professional relationship, that is a violation of professional boundaries.

    A College registrant will be found to have violated professional boundaries when they fail to keep the relationship with their client within the required roles and expectations defined in the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. A “blurring of the lines” between a registrant and client may lead to an increasingly unprofessional and inappropriate relationship.

    Boundary violations occur when there is a failure to keep the relationship between a College member and a client within set roles and expectations, which can lead to the relationship becoming increasingly less professional (or less therapeutic in nature) and more personal and intimate. Sexual abuse of clients is one of the most serious and harmful forms of boundary violation.

    Preventing the “slippery slope” of boundary violations is entirely the responsibility of the registrant, not the client.

  • There are a number of steps you can take if you, or someone you know, has been sexually abused:

    • Request that the abuse stop immediately.
    • If the College member works at an agency/facility, report the abuse to a manager or other person in authority.
    • Report the abuse to the College.
  • The first step is to check the College’s Online Register to confirm that the individual is a College member. If they are, you can file a complaint or make a report against the person. Visit the College’s website to learn more about the difference between a complaint and a report and to file your complaint or report online.

    If you would like to speak with the College before filing a complaint or report, you can reach us at 416-972-9882 ext. 223 /Toll-Free: 1-877-828-9380 ext. 223 or College staff will listen to your concerns and explain the College’s investigations process and available resources. You do not have to give your name to staff at this time if you are not comfortable doing so. If you choose to file a complaint or make a report,, your name will be required so that the College member  can respond to the investigation. Please note that, in some instances, a College investigation may still be initiated even if you choose not to participate in the investigation process

  • Every person who reports sexual abuse to the College has their own reasons for doing so. Some individuals, such as other social workers and social service workers, are required to report abuse. Some clients who have experienced sexual abuse are immediately clear about their decision to report their experience to the College; others find the decision very difficult. The College recognizes and respects each person’s choice.

    Most reports of sexual abuse come from clients themselves. This is important because the College depends on clients to let us know when they have serious concerns about the behaviour of a social worker or social service worker. This in turn helps the College protect the public interest.

    Incidents of sexual abuse rarely happen in isolation. By reporting your experience to the College, you may help others. Also, some clients who have reported to the College feel that their participation in the process has assisted them in coming to terms with their experience and seeking closure.

  • All information provided to the College is carefully reviewed. Each investigation is assigned to an investigator who is experienced in conducting sensitive investigations. They will explain the investigation process to you, answer any questions you might have, and keep you updated on the status of the investigation. The investigator will often interview you and other witnesses, as well as gather relevant documents.

    Once the investigation is complete, the investigation will be reviewed by either the College’s Complaints Committee or Executive Committee and that committee will make a decision. One of the decisions the committee can make is to refer the matter to the College’s Discipline Committee to hold a disciplinary hearing, which is similar to a court proceeding. You may be asked to testify at the hearing. If that is the case, College staff will review this with you and answer any questions you might have.

  • Yes, with a few exceptions. In order for the College to initiate an investigation into your concerns, you must provide your name and contact information. The social worker or social service worker you reported will be sent a copy of your report, which includes your name, so that they might respond to the investigation.

  • For more information about the College’s discipline process, please refer to our general Discipline Information page and our Testifying at a Discipline Hearing: A Guide for Witnesses.

  • We understand that the decision to file a report of sexual abuse with the College may be complicated, personal and perhaps intimidating. This is why we offer a Support Person Program — to assist individuals who have experienced sexual abuse by a social worker or social service worker. The Support Person Program is provided by a regulated health professional with expertise in sexual abuse matters and College processes. For more information about the program, please click here.

    You may also want to contact the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres for additional supports and services.

    Information related to free legal resources may be found below:

    • The Law Society of Ontario Lawyer Referral Service can provide individuals with the name of a lawyer or licensed paralegal who can provide a free consultation of up to 30 minutes to help you determine your rights and options.
    • Pro Bono Ontario offers a free legal advice hotline at 1-855-255-7256 (toll-free).
    • Legal Aid Ontario- 1-800-668-8258 (toll-free) or at 416-979-1446 if you are calling from Toronto or the GTA. 
  • Your social worker or social service worker may have crossed professional boundaries if they:

    • Put their needs and interests before your own;
    • Ask that you keep secrets for them;
    • Make inappropriate comments about your appearance;
    • Text or call you outside of the times you have agreed to connect for professional services;
    • Text or call you from their personal phone;
    • Ask you out on a date; and/or
    • Ask about your sexual preferences or interests in a way that is unrelated to professional services.

    If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, or ever feel embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing aspects of your social work or social service work services with close family and/or friends, it may indicate that professional boundaries have been crossed. If this is the case, you may wish to contact the College’s Professional Practice Department to discuss further at