In relationships, how do you know if someone has the potential to be abusive? You do not—according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, most abusers actually appear to be “perfectly normal” at the beginning stages of the relationship and gradually develop abusive patterns later. That said, people can find themselves trapped in a physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive relationship without knowing that they are the victim of sexual assault.Identifying sexual assault or sexual abuse in a relationship might be difficult for the victim; more importantly, someone involved in an obviously abusive situation may find it difficult to leave.  The law of sexual assault is governed by the Canadian Criminal Code which applies to every province.  The term “sexual abuse” has a wider definition than sexual assault and occurs when a person conducts sexual violence, intimidation, sexual assault, coercion, or acts of sexual harassment toward you.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Abuse may begin with behaviors that may easily be dismissed or downplayed, such as name-calling, threats, possessiveness or distrust. Although the abuser may apologize for these actions, violence and control usually intensify over time.

Some examples of abusive tendencies include, but are not limited to:

  • Stalking the victim or monitoring the victim’s every move;
  • Embarrassing or shaming the victim with put-downs or name-calling;
  • Pressuring the victim to have sex or to do things sexually that they are not comfortable with; and
  • Intimidating the victim by looking at or acting in ways that scare him or her.

Sexual Assault Under ss. 271 of the Canadian Criminal Code?

The Canadian Criminal Code and common law definition of sexual assault mainly includes all unwanted sexual activity, such as unwanted sexual grabbing, kissing, fondling, oral sex or rape. Unwanted sexual activity is any sexual or intimate act to which both parties have not agreed or consented to. Consent means an agreement to engage in the sexual activity by both parties through either their words or their actions. Silence or passivity does not equal consent.

The punishment for sexual assault under s. 271 of the Criminal Code can be severe.  If the crown elects by indictment (for example, in a rape case), the maximum prison term is 10 years. However, if the complainant is under 16 years of age the maximum prison term for an indictable sexual assault is 14 years and the mandatory minimum is one year. Assuming the Crown proceeds by way of summary conviction (for example, in a breast or buttock touching case), then the maximum jail term is 18 months.  If the complainant is under 16 years of age, the maximum prison term for a summary conviction sexual assault is 2 years less a day and the mandatory minimum is six months.

What if I am Arrested for Sexual Assault?

If you are arrested for sexual assault, there are several legal options still available to you. For example, in many sexual assault charges,  an experienced and skilled criminal defence lawyer may be able to  raise a reasonable doubt that the complainant consented to the sexual activity.  Alternatively, your criminal defence lawyer may be able show the court you genuinely believed that the victim actually gave consent.

Ontario residents can contact the lawyers at Kruse Law to learn how we can help you win you sexual assault charge or resolve you case with the lightest sentence possible. Call us  toll free at 1-800-699-0806 or fill out our online case form for a free legal evaluation of your case, or send an email to

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