- J. Berry (law student)
Sexual Assault and the Internet: A Student’s Perspective
A Swedish man, Bjorn Samstrom, is on trial in his country for “gross rape” against victims he never physically touched. The catch? He committed the acts against his victims entirely over the internet, while they were in the US, Britain, and Canada.
Prosecutors in Sweden are hoping to set a precedent with this case. Under Swedish law, rape deals with a serious violation of sexual integrity, and while this doesn’t have to be intercourse, it must be equally as violating. The courts in Sweden have previous ruled that a charge of sexual assault, a lesser charge, can be committed through the internet, though have not ruled on this for the more serious Swedish rape charges. In the case at hand, Samstrom threatened to kill young woman or release photos of them on pornography sites unless they performed sexual acts over webcam while he watched.
The closest precedent we have in Canada is a 2008 case out of Ontario. In this case a 23-year-old man, Mark Bedford, was found guilty of coercing young woman to show him their breasts over webcam, and then threatening to release those images unless they performed more explicit acts. While Bedford was found guilty on multiple charges, those charges included child pornography, mischief to data, extortion, impersonation, and criminal harassment and landed him 3 years in prison. He was not charged with sexual interference or sexual assault.
The Criminal Code of Canada has some provisions dealing with matters such as this including ss. 151, 152, 153, and 172.1. Ss. 151, 152, and 153 all include an element of indirect touching, which can open up the door for internet predators who indirectly encourage their victims to perform sexual acts over an online platform. S, 172.1 deals with luring a child, and makes it illegal to communicate with a child online for the purpose of committing a sexual offence. R v. Legare says that this legislation attempts to “shut that door on predatory adults who, generally for a sexual purpose, troll the Internet for vulnerable children and adolescents”.
Globalization and increased technology including wide spread use of the internet has created a different world in relation to various crimes. We have made some progress at adapting our laws and understanding of crimes that come to light with these technological advances, but how far should we go? Should we include internet crimes under the umbrella of sexual assault?
From the child luring legislation induction in 2002 until 2008 Statistics Canada reported that around three quarters (73%) of court cases involving this charge result in a finding of guilt, as well that 87% of cases involving child luring also had other charges, many sexual in nature. In comparison, Statistics Canada has stated that only 42% of sexual assault charges result in a guilty verdict.
If our aim is to ensure that the penal system punishes those that commit wrong doings, I think that Canadian legislation has done well with keeping up with the times. While sexual assault charges may still be reserved for cases that happen in person, modernized legislation has been enacted to ensure that victims and offenders get the justice they deserve.
Blackwell, T. (2017, October 5) In unprecedented case, Swedish man on trial for 'raping' Canadian girls — over the internet. National Post. Retrieved from: http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/in-unprecedented-case-swedish-man-on-trial-for-raping-canadian-girls-over-the-internet
R. v. Legare,  3 S.C.R. 551