The survey shows that awareness of sexual consent is low among Canadians

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55 percent of Canadians do not understand the legal definition of sexual consent, suggests a recent survey conducted by Maru Public Opinion and commissioned by the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF).

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, consent is the voluntary and ongoing agreement to engage in sexual activity, which can be withdrawn at any time.

Out of a random sample of 1,511 Canadian adults surveyed on October 18 and 19, less than half (45 percent) of respondents demonstrated an understanding of consensual sexual activity that meets the legal threshold .

Those who successfully met this threshold were almost equally women and men under the age of 54. This age group also showed a better understanding of sexual consent than their older counterparts over 55, the study found.

“Sexual violence stories are covered in the news all the time,” said Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in a news release on Tuesday.

“While more people seem to be aware of what consent is, it is alarming that so many still do not understand. It is a sign that Canada desperately needs to invest in consent education and effective abuse prevention measures that are relevant to all age groups.”

Although the percentage of Canadians who are aware of consent has increased since the survey was first conducted in 2015it still represents less than half the population.

Awareness also varied by province, the survey found. Those who had an understanding of consent are more likely to live in Alberta (49 per cent) and British Columbia (48 per cent), followed by those living in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario (47 per cent each), Atlantic Canada ( 42 per cent), and Québec (39 per cent).

Last year, the definition of consent under the Sexual Assault Act came under scrutiny when a BC man was charged with sexual assault after assuring a woman he would wear a condom.

This was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in July sex with a condom is a different physical act than sex without a condomand that condom use may be a condition of consent under the Sexual Assault Act.

The Supreme Court of Canada said that consenting to sex with the condition that a condom is used is not the same as consenting to sex without conditions. In other words, consent must be given again if the use of a condom was not previously agreed upon.

According to Statistics Canada data published in 2019, 4.7 million women – or 30 percent of all women aged 15 and older – have experienced sexual assault that did not involve an intimate partner.

The statistics suggest that some women and people of color, especially Indigenous women, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, women with disabilities and younger women are more likely to experience sexual assault.

This current survey shows that 42 percent of Canadians know a woman who has been sexually assaulted.

With files from Kendra Mangione

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