5 Commonly Asked Questions about Sexual Assault Offences in Canada

Sexual assault is a serious criminal offence, yet it’s among the most underreported crimes. There are many reasons for this, including not wanting to involve police, the incident being dealt with privately, or victims not believing that police will help.

Knowing Canada’s sexual assault laws is important. If you’re a victim, you can report the incident; or you can protect your rights if you face a false charge. Here, our sexual assault lawyers answer common questions regarding these criminal offences so you know your rights and exercise them wisely.

Sexual Assault Offences in Canada: What You Need to Know

Any sexual activity, from a touch that made you uncomfortable to unwanted intercourse, is considered sexual assault. If you have questions about this criminal offence or want to learn about it, keep reading.

1) I’ve been charged with sexual assault. What are my options?

When charged with sexual assault, the first thing you must do is contact a law firm and get help from an experienced lawyer. They will review the complete investigative file and help you decide the best course of action – whether you should head to trial or accept a negotiated plea deal.

If you are innocent and your sexual assault lawyer finds inconsistencies in the police or complainant’s version of events, they will prepare a defence to assist in protecting your rights and establishing your innocence. However, in certain circumstances, if you wish to plead guilty, steps can be taken to minimize your culpability as well.

2) What is sexual interference?

Sexual interference is a specific type of sexual assault under section 151 of the Criminal Code of Canada. It refers to a person indirectly or directly touching any part of the body of a person under the age of consent (16 years) for a sexual purpose.

To obtain a guilty verdict, the Crown must prove that the victim is below the age of consent and that the touching was intentional and done specifically for a sexual purpose. It doesn’t matter if the minor consented, except in limited circumstances where the accused is close in age to the minor as the law allows for these exceptions.

  • A 14 or 15-year-old can consent to sexual activity as long as the partner is less than five years older and there’s no relationship of trust, authority, or dependency, or any other exploitation of the young person. If the partner is more than five years older, the sexual activity is considered a criminal offence.
  • A 12 or 13-year-old can consent to sexual activity as long as their partner is less than two years older and there is no relationship of trust, authority, or dependency, or any other exploitation of the young person. If the partner is more than two years older, the sexual activity is considered a criminal offence.

3) I am a victim of sexual assault. What should I do?

We understand that the fear and stress that results from this trauma can make you incapable of speaking up or resisting. You can access professional counselling and medical/emotional support from community support agencies to help you deal with and recover from this trauma. You can also call the police. Remember that you can report sexual assault no matter how long ago it happened. You may speak with a lawyer who practices civil litigation to see if there is a potential civil remedy against the person who assaulted you, whether that person is a family member, a co-worker, or a stranger.

4) What is the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment?

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are both serious offences, but are often misunderstood. It is important to understand the difference in order to proceed accordingly in a lawsuit.

Sexual assault refers to a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching to groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways.

Sexual harassment is a broader term. It can include discriminatory remarks about gender, implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation, unwanted sexual attention, and relentless pressure for dates or sexual behaviour.

While sexual assault is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex and a violation of human rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

5) Is a mistaken belief in consent considered a defence in a sexual assault charge?

Yes. As mentioned, proving that the victim did not consent to the sexual activity is important in determining whether or not sexual assault occurred. And consent is determined by the judge or jury based on the totality of the circumstances and the credibility of the complainant.

However, if the complainant denied there was consent but it was misinterpreted by the accused as consent, to prove their innocence the accused must show evidence of the ambiguity or equivocation that led to the possibility of mistaken belief. The criminal code and the law limits this defence and you should consult your lawyer about what those limitations are.

Sexual assault is a heinous crime that impacts a victim’s life physically and emotionally.  While the severity of sexual assault cannot be taken lightly, we can also not ignore the risks involved with false accusations and wrongful convictions. As a reputable law firm in Brampton, it’s our responsibility to protect the rights of accused persons and make sure no one’s life is ruined by bad evidence or lies.

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