The definition of sexual assault depends on the circumstances and the victim’s experience. In criminal law, a broad definition of sexual assault is needed to identify actions that can be punished by the Canadian courts.
The crime of sexual assault
In Canada, sexual assault is when one of the partners doesn’t consent (doesn’t agree to) sexual touching.
Sexual touching includes kissing, fondling and having sex.
Legal definition of sexual consent
Consent to sexual touching means clearly showing that you agree, through your words or actions, to a sexual activity. According to this definition, a person who says or does nothing hasn’t agreed to a sexual activity.
It’s possible for people to give consent but then change their minds later. If they change their minds, they no longer consent.
When sexual consent isn’t legal
In some cases, a person’s sexual consent isn’t legal even if the person said yes. Here are a few examples:
- The consent was not given freely, for example, the person was threatened.
- The consent was not informed, for example, because a lie caused a serious risk of harm to the partner.
- The person wasn’t able to consent, for example, because the person was unconscious.
- The person was too young to consent.
If the consent to sexual touching isn’t legal, then there is no consent and the touching is considered sexual assault.
Other sexual offences
Sexual offences are all crimes that are sexual in nature, including sexual assault.
Some sexual offences have a specific legal definition. Here are examples:
Free and confidential resources are available to help sexual assault victims and their families.