Sexual assault explained

There are few crimes that cause more anger and fear than sexual assault.

Despite the intense emotion that it conjures up, few people know much about the crime of sexual assault. So, this is the topic of this week’s column.

To start, it seems like most people think the term ‘sexual assault’ refers to just rape (i.e. non-consensual sex). Well, it does refer to rape; but, the term includes much more than that…

Basically, sexual assault is a non-consensual TOUCHING of another person AND that TOUCHING has a ‘sexual nature’ to it.

So, how is it decided if the touching has a ‘sexual nature’? Well, in deciding that, the court/judge looks at the circumstances of the touching and considers, ‘would a reasonable person, watching the interaction between the two people, think that the touching was sexual?’ The judge considers several factors, such as the part of the body that was touched and the gestures/conversation that accompanied the touching.

And, for your information, a sexual assault can occur even if the person ‘doing the touching’ is not doing it for sexual gratification.

Consider this famous case: R. v. V.(K.B.), [1993] 2 SCR 857. In this case, a father was found guilty of sexually assaulting his three-year-old son when the father grabbed his son’s genitals. He grabbed his son’s genitals to try to deter his son from grabbing the genital region of adults, showing him how much it hurts. Clearly, there was NO sexual motive in this case. But, despite that, the father was guilty.

Obviously, the term ‘sexual assault’ includes a WIDE range of actions.

A sexual assault could include rubbing a piece of fruit against a stranger in the supermarket (in a creepy way). It could also include grabbing and twisting someone’s nipple (i.e. what children refer to as giving someone a ‘purple nurple’). It can also refer to groping and raping someone.

Clearly, it can be misleading when media outlets/journalists refer to an incident of ‘sexual assault’. To know what we are dealing with, it would be helpful to get all the facts...

Lastly, for your information, the sexual assault laws in Canada have not always been ‘fair’.

Before several legal changes, husbands were given ‘leniency’ when it came to sexually assaulting their wives. In other words, they were allowed to do it.

Also, the sexual reputation and experiences of the victims were often attacked. It was thought that a ‘less sexually experienced’ woman was more credible and more believable (when testifying against a rapist).

Also, before legal changes, there was a suspicion that if the victim did not report the sexual assault to the police right after the assault, then the victim was ‘making it up’.

THANKFULLY, these laws are different now.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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