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What is sexual assault and what does the Criminal Code say?

It can be difficult to recognize sexual assault because of the many ways it can manifest. Unwanted touch or even inappropriate comments are often agressions that we’ll tend to sweep away, ignoring their relevancy. However, as soon as an unsolicited gesture with sexual connotations takes place, it’s considered an act of violence that can affect a victim’s integrity.

Sexual assault is considered a serious public health problem, which means it’s crucial that it be well defined, and that clear regulations be put into place and understood. The Criminal Code of Canada defines a sexual assault as physical or non-physical contact that’s committed by an individual, without the other individual’s consent. In certain cases it can be devious or underhanded, and come in the form of manipulation or emotional blackmail. Whether verbal or physical, sexual assault is considered an abuse of power and a criminal act.

You could be accused of sexual assault in the following circumstances:



Forcing oral, vaginal or anal penetration


Unwanted sexual touching

Touching a part of the body in a sexual manner (a forced kiss, rubbing up against someone or forced masturbation).

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    The importance of consent

    Every sexual relationship must be consenting between partners. However, several factors could affect the judgement of those involved. It’s possible that someone may not be able to make a sound decision, or not have the necessary maturity to objectively agree to sexual contact. This is when the law can clarify misunderstandings.

    In Canada,you must be 16 years of age in order to consent to sexual activity. If an individual has sexual relations with a partner who is under the age of 16, and the minor decides to press charges, consent will not be recognized by the law, even if the sexual contact was voluntary.

    Consent provided under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or due to emotional blackmail, pressure, manipulation or even force, won’t be considered valid. It’s important to know that consent to sexual relations does not represent a promise or a commitment, and that partners can always change their mind at any time.

    What are the possible sentences?

    Any individual charged with sexual assault in Canada will be subjected to the Criminal Code. Sentencing will depend on the circumstances and gravity of the acts that were commited.

    For first grade assaults (without physical touch), the sentence corresponding to Article 271 of the Criminal Code represents a maximum of 10 years (if the Crown decides to pursue as a criminal act), and a maximum of 18 months if the Crown chooses to pursue by summary conviction.

    Assault using a weapon to threaten or cause bodily harm refers to Article 272 of the Criminal Code and can lead to imprisonment for 4 to 15 years.

    Any assault that harms, mutilates, disfigures or puts a victim’s life in danger is considered a serious offence. Per Article 273 the corresponding imprisonment can be anywhere from 5 years to life.

    If you’ve been accused of sexual assault, defend your rights and consult with a trustworthy professional as soon as possible. Experienced criminal law attorney Martine Thibodeau combines meticulous skill and a personal, human approach to offer you constant support, guidance and advice throughout the entire legal process.

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