Victims of Sexual Assault (4:V)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on July 8, 2022.|
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 you have been in any of the following situations, you may have been a victim of sexual assault:
- you have been physically touched in a sexual manner by another person which was not wanted
- your words or actions indicated that you did not want to have or continue sexual contact, but the sexual contact continued
- you submitted to sexual contact because someone threatened or used force on you
- you were not able to give consent to sexual contact (for example, you were drugged, impaired, or have a disability)
- someone persuaded you 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
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 council 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 you believe you or someone you know may have been the victim of a sexual assault once you are in a safe place, you should call the police. If you need emergency medical attention or you are in immediate danger, call 911.
If you do not want to call the police there are other people you can talk to such as VictimLink BC available at 1-800-563-0808, or Healthlink BC available at 811. The Surrey Women’s centre has a mobile assault response team that provides services over the phone and in-person to anyone who has experienced a physical or sexual assault. They are available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You do not have to go to the hospital or make a police report to use their services. The Surrey Women’s centre can be reached at 604-583-1295. More information is available here. Similarly, consult Battered Women’s Support Services here or at 1-855-687-1868. WAVAW provides support services to survivors of sexualized violence who have shared experiences of gender marginalization: cis and trans women, Two-Spirit, trans and/or non-binary people. They advocate for social and systemic change through education, outreach and activism. WAVAW can be reached at 604-255-6344 and 1-877-392-7583 outside the lower mainland. More information on WAVAW is available here.
If the sexual assault involves a child, you should call the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s 24-hour emergency abuse line at 1-800-663-9122.
Even if you do not think that you need immediate medical attention, you should go to the hospital. If you have been assaulted within the last 7 days, there is a special team of nurses and/or doctors at the hospital who can help you. You may need medical attention, even if you do not have visible signs of injury.
Further information on sexual assault and the steps to take if you need help is available here.
D. Help for Students, Faculty and Staff at the University of British Columbia
The Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) is available to help all UBC students, faculty and staff. The SVPRO states they “are a safe place for students, faculty, staff who have experienced sexual violence, regardless of where or when it took place. This includes any attempt or act of a sexual nature without your consent. All gender identities, expressions and sexualities are welcome.” You do not need to make a police report or go to the hospital to get help from SVPRO.
Further information is available here or by calling 604-822-1588.
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