Sexual assault, harassment, and/or violence is defined as any form of unconsented sexual contact (e.g., kissing, touching, rape). Sexual assault can also happen verbally in the form of jokes, threats, and unsolicited remarks. Contrary to common knowledge, sexual assault can actually happen in romantic relationships.
Indeed, sexual violence is a problem that can affect any person in any community, but the reality is women experience it more often. Some women are more vulnerable to sexual violence due to disability, race, and social standing.
9 out of 10 of all sexual assault incidents were committed against women.
The rate of sexual assault against indigenous women is three times higher compared to non-indigenous women.
The rate of sexual assault against women with disabilities is twice as high as those without.
Not surprising when surveyed only 45% of people in Canada fully understand the legal definition of giving consent to sexual activity. Perhaps this is reason why sexual violence is the only crime in Canada that is not in decline.
Physical and mental effects of sexual assault and harassment can impact the victim for life. Psychological effects of sexual violence is the most common and includes anxiety, nightmares, sense of shame, feelings of betrayal, emotional constriction, isolation tendencies, sleep deprivation, and PTSD.
Canada has made significant progress in recent years in addressing sexual assault and harassment, including changes to the criminal law. However, there are still ongoing challenges and opportunities for improvement. Here are some changes that could be considered to strengthen sexual assault laws in Canada:
- Clarify the definition of consent: One of the ongoing challenges in sexual assault cases is establishing that consent was not given. The definition of consent in Canadian law can be confusing and unclear. Updating and clarifying the definition could help ensure that cases are handled consistently and survivors are better protected.
- Eliminate the “mistaken belief in consent” defense: Under current Canadian law, a defendant can argue that they believed, however unreasonably, that the complainant had consented to sexual activity. This defense can be used to shift the burden of proof onto the complainant and make it more difficult to secure a conviction.
- Address issues related to victim-blaming: Sexual assault survivors are often subject to scrutiny and victim-blaming, which can make it difficult for them to come forward and report their experiences. More education and training for judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officials could help address these issues.
- Strengthen protections for survivors’ privacy: Survivors of sexual assault have the right to privacy and should be protected from intrusive media coverage and other forms of public exposure.
- Ensure adequate resources and support for survivors: Many survivors of sexual assault face significant barriers to accessing the support and resources they need. Improving funding for rape crisis centers and other victim services, as well as providing better training for healthcare providers and law enforcement officials, could help address these issues.
- Awareness and education are key in stopping sexual violence. A medical study suggests that education in high school is effective to stop sexual violence by teaching teenagers to recognize abusive relationships, develop healthy ones, and speak up when they experience sexual assault
These are just a few of the many possible changes that could be made to strengthen sexual assault laws in Canada. Ultimately, addressing sexual assault requires a multi-faceted approach that involves addressing underlying attitudes and social norms, as well as improving legal protections and support services. For more information on what you and your organization can do please check out our Start Believing Blog.