The law governing sexual offences was substantially reformed and modernized some twenty five years ago as to both substantive offences and the rules of evidence applicable to their prosecution. More recently, the criminal law also has evolved to deal with the emergence of widespread access to the internet.
Instead of being classified according to the specific type of sexual activity these offences generally are now considered to be a sub category of the crime of assault. Thus, other than in the definition of incest, the terms “sexual intercourse” and “rape” virtually have been eliminated from the definitions of sexual offences. Instead, any conduct falling within the definition of assault which is committed in a sexual context is deemed to be the crime of sexual assault and more serious offences are defined according to aggravating circumstances such as degrees of bodily harm and the use of weapons. There are also provisions dealing with sexual conduct on the part of persons in authority over the victim and acts committed against vulnerable persons, particularly children.
Important changes to the rules of evidence have been made to reflect the modern realization that some fundamental misconceptions informed the historical development of the law. Firstly, a person accused of sexual assault is no longer permitted to lead evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual activity in order to infer the likelihood of consent to the activity alleged as the offence. In addition, in recognition of the stigma attaching to these crimes which causes a reluctance to report them, it is no longer permitted to find a complainant less credible by reason only of the failure to report a sexual crime in a timely manner.
The other main category of sexual offences pertains to production and possession of pornography, with the most commonly prosecuted offences being those relating to children.