The law and sexualized violence
In Canada, the law defines sexual assault as any unwanted sexual act or sexual activity done without consent. There are three different legal categories of sexual assault that are different based on how much force was used, however all unwanted sexual acts can be considered sexual assault. Consent requires an enthusiastic agreement from each person involved, but there are also situations where someone cannot legally give consent even if they say yes.
The age of consent in Canada is 16, but there are restrictions on legal consent until age 18:
- Anyone age 12-13 can’t consent to sex with someone more than 2 years older than them.
- Anyone age 14-15 can’t consent to sex with someone more than 5 years older than them.
- Anyone age 17 or younger can’t consent to sex with someone in a position of authority over them like a teacher, coach or babysitter.
No matter what age they are, nobody can give consent if they are drunk, high, unconscious, being threatened or manipulated.
What does the law say about what happens online?
There are laws against harassment that happens online as well as in person, which can include cyberbullying, cyberstalking and non-consensual intimate image sharing. It is against the law to share anyone’s private intimate images, or nudes, without their consent, and if they were under 18 when the image was taken, child pornography laws may apply.
You may have heard that sharing consensual nudes or sexting is always illegal if you’re under 18. However, there are exceptions in the law to protect youth who are sharing images under specific circumstances, which include: the images are only of themselves, they are only shared privately, they are only shared with consent, and they are only shared with other youth under 18. Click here for a more detailed breakdown and some tips on sending nudes safely!
What can you do if you are sexually assaulted or harassed?
There are several resources to support you if you have experienced assault or harassment.
- You can reach out to a trusted family member, mentor or community elder for support. At VSAC we believe that everyone has the right to choose what happens for themselves; however, legal protections for youth under 18 may require some adults to report certain instances of harm.
- Crisis lines can offer immediate and anonymous support and help you decide what options are right for you: Kids Help Phone (not just for “kids”), and VSAC services.
- If your nudes or intimate photo/video has been shared online without your consent, needhelpnow.ca helps remove them from the internet confidentially.
- You can file a report with the police. Some people face additional barriers with reporting to the police and choose not to. You should make whatever decision feels right for you. Here is some more information on what to expect when filing a police report.
- Read our suggestions for support after sexualized violence here.
There are many options following the experience of a sexual assault according to the law. Some options include taking action against the person who committed the assault and others don’t. No matter what option you choose, or how much time you take to decide, you are not alone and you deserve to be supported.