April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Since the 1970s, organizations across North America and around the world have worked to raise awareness about the medical, legal, social, and emotional impacts of sexual assault.
Despite decades of activism, many misconceptions about sexual assault remain. Survivor’s Hope recently surveyed high school students in North Eastman found that students are unclear about the legal age of consent in Canada.
I had students throughout the North Eastman region complete a short quiz about sexual exploitation as a part of the Reaching Out Program for Survivor’s Hope. There was one question that seemed to stump the students and it was the question about the legal age of consent. More than half of the students did not know the right answer to that question.
It is very important that students know that the legal age of consent is 16. It is equally important that they know, their parents know, and the adults who work with youth know about the additional clauses regarding age of consent, or also referred to as age of protection.
The legal age of consent in Canada changed from 14 years of age to 16 in May 2008. However, the age of consent is 18 when the situation may be exploitative. This means that someone who is 16 or 17 cannot consent to sexual activity with anyone in a position of trust or authority, such as a teacher, coach, boss, or caretaker. Anyone under 18 is also not able to consent to being involved in pornography or prostitution in any way. All adults who engage minors in these activities are committing a criminal offence and should be reported to the RCMP.
There are also “peer group” exceptions in Canada’s criminal code. Someone who is 14 or 15 is legally able to consent to sexual activity with someone who is no more than 5 years older than the youth in question. Similarly, someone who is 12 or 13 is able to consent to sexual activity with someone no more than 2 years older than themselves. Adolescents cannot be charged for consensual sexual activity but any and all non-consensual contact is still illegal.
Canadian statistics on sexual assault and abuse show that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience unwanted sexual acts before the age of 18. The majority of these incidents happen during adolescence and 95% of victims know the person that abused them. All unwanted sexual contact is sexual assault, which is against the law regardless of the ages of the people involved.
Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre offers immediate sexual assault crisis intervention through the Sexual Assault Recovery and Healing (SARAH) program. When someone experiences a sexual assault, a SARAH worker is available at any time of day or night to assist them at the RCMP detachment or at the hospital. Read more information about myths and facts about sexual assault.
Everyone should take a moment to educate themselves on what the criminal code has to say about this issue because we are all responsible to look out for the children and youth in our communities.