New sexual consent law confusing, youth workers say
Youth advocates are worried a somewhat technical new law in Canada that effectively raises the age of consent from 14 to 16 may confuse teenagers, making them susceptible to early pregnancy and STIs.
However, as the article points out toward the end, do teenagers even know what the previous laws were?
When it comes to sex, 16 is the new 14. Under a law that went into effect yesterday as part of the federal government's omnibus crime bill passed in February, a teen under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex with an adult five or more years older.
The bill is intended to target sexual predators, but many youth advocates say that by focusing on age, the new law will confuse teens, make their sexual activities more clandestine and expose them to other risks, including abuse, early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
"When you call it the age of consent, that's misleading to kids, who will think it's not permitted, that it's a crime to be sexually active before the age of 16," says Martha Mackinnon, the executive director of Justice for Children and Youth, a Toronto legal aid clinic serving low-income youth. "A huge concern is that kids won't seek medical help, won't seek counselling, they won't seek birth control.
"They won't go to a drug store and ask for condoms," she says.
It is not a crime for youth under 16 to engage in sexual activity, she points out.
"In fact, it's so much more technical than that it's hard for people to understand," Ms. Mackinnon says.
Among the exemptions, sex between peers under 16 is okay, as long as neither is in a position of authority and they are 12 or older. Likewise, under a "close-in-age" provision, if a person under 16 (and 12 or older) has sex with someone less than five years older, they can be considered to have consented unless the older person is in a position of authority.
"The fact that it's less than five years doesn't make it automatically legal. It just means that it's not automatically illegal."
Another area of concern for critics is that it remains illegal for anyone under 18 to participate in anal intercourse - critics say this targets gay male teenagers - even though the law has been struck down as unconstitutional by many provincial courts of appeal.
London, Ont., youth worker Heather Miko-Kelly agrees that most teens are unaware of the past or current age of consent. In a recent outreach program she ran, many teens told her they thought the age was 18.
"Generally, they don't care. How many underage drinkers are there? Drinking laws and consent laws - I think teenagers believe that these laws were made by adults, which they are, and they don't think they're applicable to them."