Ontario has launched a new pilot program which offers free legal advice for survivors of sexual violence. Currently the program is available to survivors living in the City of Toronto, the City of Ottawa and the District of Thunder Bay.
"Sexual assault" is ANY form of sexual contact with another person, without her/his voluntary consent (e.g., forced kissing, fondling, oral sex, and/or vaginal or anal intercourse).
Sexual assault is not a loss of control over sexual urges - it is an act of power and control. Many people MISTAKENLY think that: rape (forced sexual intercourse) is the only type of sexual assault; a violent attack is always part of a sexual assault; and/or, that injuries result from every sexual assault incident. In some cases, however, no physical violence is used, and no physical injuries occur; instead, someone may be threatened, or pressured into doing something s/he doesn’t want to do. Sexual assault in any form, however, is against the law.
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Under the Criminal Code of Canada, there are three different levels of sexual assault, which are based on the varying degrees of personal injury experienced.
"Sexual Assault Level 1": sexual assault without bodily harm
"Sexual Assault Level 2": sexual assault causing bodily harm, where the perpetrator is armed with (or uses) a weapon, or when the perpetrator threatens to injure a third party
"Sexual Assault Level 3": aggravated sexual assault (use of a weapon during a sexual assault, and resulting in injury, disfigurement, or endangering the life of a person).
Depending on the type of assault, it may be categorized as a summary conviction (a crime that is considered less serious and is given a lesser penalty) or an indictable offence (a crime that is considered more serious than a summary offence and has a higher penalty).
A person found guilty of sexual assault may receive a penalty of up to ten years in jail for an indictable offence, or up to 18 months in jail for a summary conviction. If threats or weapons were used, or if the victim received serious injuries, the maximum penalties may be higher.
"Consent" in this context is a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Any consent that is obtained as a result of manipulation, threats, coercion, or intimidation is not considered voluntary. Each person has the right to set her/his own sexual limits, and may refuse to participate in ANY type of sexual activity, at ANY time, for ANY reason.
A child cannot consent to any sexual activity with an adult. Furthermore, consent has NOT been given if:
- someone other than the participant gives consent (through words or conduct);
- the participant is incapable of giving consent (e.g., is unconscious, impaired by alcohol or drugs, sleeping, heavily medicated, or has a disability);
- the person who committed the assault is (or was) abusing a position of power, trust, or authority (e.g., parent, babysitter, teacher, coach, police officer, doctor);
- the participant says “NO”, or implies through her/his words or body language, that s/he does not want to engage in sexual activity;
- after previously consenting to engage in sexual activity, the participant changes her/his mind at any point prior to, or during, the sexual activity.
"Sexual harassment" is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sometimes these comments sound like compliments, but make you feel uneasy. Sexual harassment can include:
· stares and leering;
· sexual name-calling;
· sexual jokes;
· howling, cat calls, whistles;
· displaying offensive, derogatory, or pornographic pictures/materials;
· cornering, blocking, or following someone;
· standing too close to someone;
· pressuring someone for sexual activity or favours;
· sexual assault and attempted sexual assault;
· other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Sexual harassment is NOT: consensual sexual interaction; physical affection between friends; and mutual flirtation, joking, or teasing.
Criminal Code of Canada (2008)
Ontario Women's Justice Network website (2007)
Legal Operations for Sexual Assault
Make a Report to the Police
If you choose to make a statement to the police, an officer will complete this with you at the police station. Your statement will likely be video-taped.
If you are not sure whether or not you want to make a report to the police, write down everything that you remember about the sexual assault (e.g., date and location, the time of day, description of the offender, what the offender did to you). Include even the smallest detail that you can recall, so you have this information on hand for a future report.
If you don't report a sexual assault to the police immediately, you may do so at a later date - even months or years after the offence. It should be noted, however, that providing sufficient evidence of a sexual assault to meet the police requirements re: laying a charge (and/or the court requirements re: a trial) usually becomes increasingly difficult as more time passes.
Make a Third-Party Report
The report consists of making a statement about the details of the sexual assault against another person. You may be contacted again at a later date (e.g., in the event of an investigation or trial).
You do not have to report the sexual assault to the police. Many women choose this option because for them, going through the related criminal justice process is akin to being re-victimized.
File a Civil Suit
This allows for the possibility of making a financial claim against the offender for such things as pain and suffering, financial loss, and/or medical expenses resulting from the sexual assault. A civil suit may be filed regardless of whether or not criminal charges have be brought against the offender. Contacting a lawyer is necessary to discuss the circumstances of such a suit.
Contact the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board
The "Criminal Injuries Compensation Board" (CIBC) is a quasi-judicial, independent agency of the Ministry of the Attorney General which can financially compensate victims of violent crimes, their caretakers, or their dependents for losses incurred as a result of these crimes. An individual must apply within two years of the offence taking place, unless s/he is under the age of 20 when the application is filed. Extensions to this two-year limitation are typically granted for sexual assault and the province plans to lift this requirement in the near future. In addition, compensation may be awarded whether or not charges are laid or there is a guilty finding in criminal court.
Women dealing with the criminal justice system after reporting a sexual assault can find it confusing and overwhelming. Our organization offers support and information to women to help them through this difficult process.
Our agency's goals are to:
give women information and resources concerning the criminal justice system, so they know what is happening and what to expect
help women make informed decisions about their options, and provide information about where they can get answers to their questions
advocate for women
work in conjunction with existing community agencies (e.g., women's shelters, the – "Victim/Witness Assistance Program", "Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral")
support women in their rights to choose the elements of their personal healing journeys
We can help with …
pre-court interviews: to explain what is happening and to answer questions
court accompaniment: to provide support before, during, and/or after the court procedures (depending upon a women's needs, and the availability of our staff)
legal documents: to assist women with the completion of documents, such as "Victim impact Statements" and "Criminal Injuries Compensation Claims"
For more information ...- see "Resources and Links"