Family Violence Initiative

Sexual abuse

Mercedes was lost in thought as she rode the bus towards her home. This country was still a puzzle to her; she'd been here for just six months. The conversation in her language class today had given her a shock. She had been so excited to come here to be with Carl. He had been living in Canada already for a few years and was visiting his family back home when they met and married in a hurry of excitement. He had originally come from her region, so they had much in common. But they had grown apart while he returned to Canada and she had waited back home for the sponsorship papers to be processed. And once she had arrived, everything familiar had felt so far away—she longed for home and for her family. She had found it hard to get to know anyone until she had started the language class. The loneliness had made her turn even further from Carl. The tears had given way to anger, and most of the time, she didn't want him to touch her. He was patient at first, but after a few months, he too had grown angry. Until one night, he'd forced himself upon her, even when she said "no". Afterwards, he had turned his back on her as she cried, curled up in pain.

A few nights later, when he started touching her again, she pleaded with him to stop. She begged him to understand how much it had hurt last time. He didn't seem to care and just forced himself on her again. After that, they had barely spoken. The shame she felt was so deep she could barely look at him. But today, in her class, she had learned that even in a marriage, forced sexual relations was considered a crime. Just to think of it made her chest tighten. What should she do? She was terrified it would happen again but couldn't bear the thought of confronting him. She needed to speak to someone to find out her rights. She would ask her teacher where to find help.

What does it look like?

Sexual abuse of an adult can include:

  • sexual touching or sexual activity without consent
  • continued sexual contact when asked to stop, or
  • forcing someone to commit unsafe or humiliating sexual acts.

All sexual contact with anyone without consent is a crime called sexual assault.* This includes sexual touching or forcing sexual activity on a spouse, a common law partner or a dating partner. Even if you are married, your spouse cannot force you to have sexual contact.

The Criminal Code contains many offences that protect children from sexual abuse, which happens when a person takes advantage of a child for sexual purposes. It does not always involve physical contact with a child. For example, it could happen when an adult invites a child to touch herself or himself sexually or attempts to lure a child over the Internet for sexual purposes.

Sexual contact between an adult and a child under 16 is a crime. In Canada, the general age of consent to sexual activity is 16 years, but there are some exceptions if the other person is close in age to the child. For more information on the age of consent and teenage relationships, visit the Department of Justice links found in "Who Can Help?" at the back of this booklet. The age of consent is 18 years in some circumstances, for example, where the sexual activity takes place in a relationship of trust, dependency or authority or where the relationship is exploitative of the child. A person of authority or trust could be a parent, step-parent, grandparent, older sibling, teacher or coach.

If a child is sexually abused at home, child protection services could intervene and remove the child from his or her parents.

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