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Despite having some of the most progressive sexual assault laws in the world, we still have a looooong way to go.

A new study from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, which launched its annual May-long Campaign to End Violence, reveals that while almost all Canadians (96%) agree that sexual activity between partners should be consensual, two-thirds of Canadians (67%) do not understand what it means.

According to Canadian law, consent should be both positive (e.g. saying yes, initiating and/or enjoying sexual activity) and ongoing (e.g. continues during the sexual activity). Only 1 in 3 (33%) survey respondents identified both of these traits as forms of consent. […]

The survey revealed that some Canadians think the need for consent becomes less important the longer couples are together. While most Canadians (97%) believe consent is required for sexual activity between people on a casual date or between new partners, 1 in 10 Canadians believe consent is not required or don’t know if it’s required between spouses (12%) or long-term partners (11%). […]

The survey also shows that many young Canadians have a blurred understanding of consent when technology is involved. One in five (21%) people aged 18 to 34 believe if a woman sends a man an explicit photo through text or email, this always means she is inviting him to engage in offline sexual activity.

Even perfect laws can be undermined by public ignorance and police incompetence.

In a recent report from Justice Canada, the most common reason that victims cited for not reporting was negative beliefs about or experiences with the criminal justice system’s response to sexual assault (Hattem, 2000). Furthermore, almost 9 out of 10 survivors of sexual assault in Calgary, Canada, felt that “reporting to the police would mean that a [woman’s] personal life would be dragged through the mud,” and 70% stated that her “actions and decisions would be judged as inappropriate” (Tomlinson, 1999, p. 66).

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