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The Law

Sexual assault is any sexual activity without consent.

Rape or sexual assault? Rape refers specifically to sexual intercourse without consent. We use the term sexual assault because it includes all forced sexual activity, not just rape.

*these are only brief descriptions of the current Canadian laws. For more specific information, it is best to talk to someone with specific knowledge of the legal system – like a Victim Service worker. Contact us.

Sexual Assault

Level 1 – Sexual Assault
It is a crime if someone forces any form of sexual activity on someone else (ie. kissing, fondling, touching, oral sex, anal sex, intercourse, etc.) without that person’s consent.

Level 2 – Sexual Assault with a Weapon
It is a crime if, during a sexual assault:

  • The attacker either uses a weapon or threatens to use a weapon (imitation or real).
  • The attacker causes bodily harm to the victim,
  • The attacker threatens to harm a person other than the victim,
  • More than one person assaults the victim in the same incident.

Level 3 – Aggravated Sexual Assault
It is a crime if, while committing a sexual assault, the attacker:

  • Wounds, maims, disfigures, or brutally beats the victim,
  • Endangers the life of the victim.

(adapted from Today’s Talk about Sexual Assault: a Booklet for Teens, 1997)


At Project Respect, we define consent as “a mutual, verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats or head games”.

  • Consent is for every act – just because someone said “yes” to one thing doesn’t mean that they have consented to anything else.
  • Consent is also continous – that is, a person has the right to stop at any time and change their mind if they want to.
  • Any pressure, force, or violence negates consent.

According to the legal definition of consent, as of May 1, 2008 (1):

  • Children under 12 are never considered able to consent to sexual activity.
  • Children 12 or more, but under 16, are unable to consent to sexual acts unless it is a specific situation with their peers.
  • For youth under 18, consent to sexual activity is not valid if the person is in a position of trust or authority over them.

There are also “close in age” exceptions under the Criminal Code:

  • For example, a 14 or 15 year old can consent to sexual activity with a partner as long as the partner is less than five years older and there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency or any other exploitation of the young person. This means that if the partner is 5 years or older than the 14 or 15 year old, any sexual activity will be considered a criminal offence unless it occurs after they are married to each other.
  • There is also a “close-in-age” exception for 12 and 13 year olds: a 12 or 13 year old can consent to sexual activity with another young person who is less than two years older and with whom there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency or other exploitation of the young person.