Victims of Sexual Assault (4:V)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on August 3, 2023.

A. What is Sexual Assault?

Any sexual contact which occurs without the consent of all the people involved is sexual assault. Sexual assault ranges from unwanted touching of a sexual nature to forced sexual intercourse. It can occur anywhere – at school, at work, in a public place or at home. Sexual assault can occur between strangers or those who know each other well, including those who are married. Sexual assault is most often committed by those known to the victim, such as family members, acquaintances or people in positions of trust or authority over the victim.

If an individual has been in any of the following situations, they may have been a victim of sexual assault. This list is not exhaustive – many forms of unwanted or coerced sexualised physical contact may meet the Criminal Code definition of sexual assault:

  • They have been physically touched in a sexual manner by another person which was not wanted
  • Their words or actions indicated that they did not want to have or continue sexual contact, but the sexual contact continued
  • They submitted to sexual contact because someone threatened or used force against them
  • They were not able to give consent to sexual contact (for example, they were drugged, impaired, or have a disability)
  • someone persuaded them to have sexual contact by using their position of authority or power over you

Legal age of consent The legal age of consent to sexual activity is 16. However, there are “close in age” exceptions for youth as young as 12 years old. A 12 or 13-year-old may consent to sexual activity with a partner who is less than two years older than them given that there is no relationship of trust, authority, dependency, or other exploitation. Similarly, a 14 or 15-year-old may consent to sexual activity with a partner who is less than five years older than them if there is no relationship of trust, authority, dependency, or other exploitation. Then, the following table can be tabulated:

Legal Age of Consent

Youth's Age
12 13 14 15 16
12 ٧ ٧ ٧ x x
13 ٧ ٧ ٧ ٧ x
14 ٧ ٧ ٧ ٧ ٧
15 x ٧ ٧ ٧ ٧
16 x x ٧ ٧ ٧
17 x x ٧ ٧ ٧
18 x x ٧ ٧ ٧
19 x x ٧ ٧ ٧
20 x x x ٧ ٧
21 x x x x ٧
22 x x x x ٧

When a child is at risk or is being sexually assaulted, it is your legal duty to report the crime.

B. Legal Representation for Sexual Assault Victims

Criminal Code s. 278.4(2.1) allows for a sexual assault victim to have their own legal counsel, where the accused is attempting to get access to third-party records. This is an exception to the general rule that victims of crime are not entitled to legal representation. The defence can apply to have the court to compel a third party to produce records if they are “likely relevant.” Examples of third-party records are notes taken by a counsellor, therapist, psychologist, or doctor, hospital records, records from child welfare or social services agency, records from an employer or school, and victim’s personal journals. These third-party records are personal documents that have a reasonable expectation of privacy. An accused may want to apply to have these records admitted as evidence in a case, where the victim can then have a lawyer represent them to decide whether the accused will get the third-party record. A hearing will be held, where the victim is able to have a lawyer make submissions as to why the accused should not get the record. Victims are allowed to have a lawyer, but getting counsel can be a challenge, especially when the victim cannot afford to pay for one themselves. Legal aid or victim services programs can be helpful when looking for legal representation.

C. Help for Victims of Sexual Assault

If a person is, or suspects someone else is, the victim of a sexual assault, they should ensure they are in a safe place and then call the police. If they are in immediate danger or need emergency medical attention, it is important to call 911 immediately.

If a person does not want to speak to police, there are other resources available. VictimLink BC is available at 1-800-563-0808 and can provide anonymous support and referrals to local victim service programs. Nurses are available through Healthlink BC and can be reached 24/7 by calling 811. Further resources and information regarding sexual assault is available at

If the sexual assault involves a child, the Ministry of Children and Family Development should be notified through their 24-hour emergency abuse line at 1-800-663-9122. See also: Reporting Child Abuse in BC –

Even if a person does not think that they need immediate medical attention, they should still go to the hospital. If a person has been sexually assaulted within the last 7 days, there is a special team of nurses and/or doctors at the hospital who can help. A person may need medical attention, even if they do not have visible signs of injury.

Further information on sexual assault and the steps to take is available at Help starts here - Sexual Assault

D. Help for Students, Faculty and Staff of Post-Secondary Institutions

The Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act requires all public post-secondary institutions in B.C. to have a sexual violence and misconduct policy. As such, each public college and university in British Columbia will have their own sexual assault resources and information on where to access help. Resources pertaining to each post-secondary institution can be found at Safe Campuses BC

© Copyright 2023, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.