Consent to Sexual Activities: Relationship of Dependency and Exploitation

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The law doesn’t always recognize consent to a sexual activity. "Consent" means agreement.

In this article, Éducaloi explains how a relationship of dependency or exploitation affects the validity of a minor’s consent. A minor is a person under 18 years old.

Consent Isn’t Valid in These Situations

If a young person is in a relationship of dependency or exploitation with someone else, the law doesn’t recognize the young person’s consent to sexual activities with that person. In other words, the sexual activity is considered a crime whether or not the young person agreed to the activity.

The purpose of this rule is to protect young people who are in a weak or vulnerable position because of the nature of their relationship with certain individuals.

Even if the young person agreed to be in the relationship of dependency or exploitation, this doesn’t change anything.

Relationship of Dependency

The word dependency means that a young person is subject, related or tied to another person to the point that she has no independence or freedom.

The young person considers the other person to be trustworthy, and the other person has a certain hold over her. Dependency also includes the young person’s feelings of inferiority toward the other person.

Dependency can result from a legal or social relationship, or from the circumstances. For example, a relationship of dependency can exist because of a young person’s financial dependency on another person: a young runaway can be in a relationship of dependency with someone who gives her a place to stay.

Relationship of Exploitation

There is a relationship of exploitation when someone takes advantage of a young person’s vulnerability for her own benefit. Exploitation refers to the young person’s vulnerability toward someone who has control over her. It is different from a position of authority or trust or a relationship of dependency.

To see whether a young person is being exploited, all the facts must be considered. Therefore, it is important to look at the nature and circumstances of the relationship. A court might take these factors into account:

  • age of the young person
  • age difference between the young person and the other person
  • evolution of their relationship
  • how much influence the other person has over the young person

Not Taking Advantage of Position Is Irrelevant

If there is a relationship of dependency or exploitation, no sexual activity between the two partners is allowed. It does not matter that the person in the dominant position did not rely on this relationship to get the consent of the young person.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.