The #metoo movement is conjuring up many discussions regarding the rights of women, the behaviour of men, and the ever-evolving line that is continuously crossed. Critics of the #metoo movement blame women for whipping men into a state of paranoia whereby every single encounter might later be held under a microscope, studied, and finally, used to persecute them at a later time. However, the women and men who have come forward at this time represent a disparity between old-world views of acceptable behaviour and current sex crime laws.

This topic will not go away on its own, but one thing is for sure: while the boundaries of decent social conduct are forever being tested and redefined, the law is very firm on what constitutes as sexual assault. No matter where you stand on the #metoo movement, it’s important to know that “no” actually does mean “no” even if the other person doesn’t say it. Knowing the law can help you avoid sexual assault charges in the future.

The Scope of Sexual Assault

In British Columbia, as in most jurisdictions, sexual assault is not merely a physical act. According to provincial law, it can mean “any form of sexual contact without a person’s consent, including the threat of sexual contact without consent.” Contact may be seemingly innocent from the accused’s perspective but  may still be deemed inappropriate or abusive to the victim. While situations and people are different, it all boils down to consent, which is clearly defined in law.

The Nature of Consent

Consent is not as simple as “yes” and “no”. When someone makes it clear with their wording or body language that they do not wish to engage in sexual activity with you, any actions you take to ignore their lack of consent can be deemed sexual assault. This is true if you just met the other party or if you are a close friend. It is also true if you are in a romantic relationship with the other party. No matter what, if the other party does not give consent, pursuing sexual activity is a criminal act.

When “Yes” Means “No”

In some cases, a victim may say “yes” and may even indicate to some degree with their body language that they give their consent, but you may still be committing sexual assault. If you used your position of power or authority to persuade them into sexual activity, the victim may be giving signs of consent but only out of fear of the ramifications, in which case it is not real consent. Sexual consent under threats, fear of pain, or threats to someone close to the victim, is not legal sexual consent. And finally, no consent exists if the victim is mentally incapable of giving it; i.e., if they’re under the influence of a controlled substance or if they have a mental disability. It should be noted as well that consent is not a deciding factor of the accused’s guilt or innocence if the victim is a minor.

Understanding the rights of all individuals and our duties to ourselves and to others can help us all become more lawful citizens. If you live in or near Surrey or the Peace River and you’re facing sexual assault charges, speak to a legal representative from Sicotte & Sandhu who will help you clearly understand the charges against you and how to proceed.