What kinds of penalties does sexual assault carry if someone is found guilty?

This information is not intended to serve as or replace legal advice. Please contact a feminist rape crisis centre, transition house or women's centre to get further information and referrals for legal advice for your specific situation.


1. What happens if the accused is found guilty?
2. What punishment will a guilty person receive?


from Department of Justice Canada

1. What happens if the accused is found guilty?

Sometimes, the judge will decide on the punishment, the sentence, right away. More often, sentencing is put off for a few weeks.

A probation officer may be asked to prepare a pre-sentence report. In that case, the probation officer will speak to people who know the accused and then write up a history. Information on the accused's background -- place of birth, schooling, lifestyle and past criminal activity -- can help the judge decide the most appropriate punishment.

You may be asked to testify at a sentencing hearing. The judge may want to know what happened during the sexual assault. Were you hurt? Were you so badly hurt that you had to miss work? How long was it before you could return to your usual activities? These facts can also help the judge decide on an appropriate punishment.

In deciding on the sentence, the judge will consider whether or not the person found guilty of sexual assault has been found guilty of a crime before. If so, is there a past conviction for sexual assault? Repeat offenders are usually given a harsher punishment.

2. What punishment will a guilty person receive?

The law gives a judge a great deal of choice in deciding the most appropriate punishment for each case. Although the judge can decide on the punishment from a wide range of options, the maximum possible sentence depends on the crime.



Crime Maximum Sentence
aggravated sexual assault life in prison - max 25 years
sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or bodily harm 14 years in prison
sexual assault tried as an indictable offence 10 years in prison
sexual assault tried as a summary conviction offence* 6 months in jail and a $2,000 fine


Using these maximum punishments as a guide, a judge can decide on the length of the prison sentence. The judge can also fine the accused or insist that the person report to a probation officer regularly.

When the maximum punishment for a crime is 14 years in prison or longer, the minimum sentence a judge can give is an order to report to a probation officer for a set period of time. This is called a suspended sentence with probation. If an accused does not obey the probation order, the judge can give another sentence.

When the maximum penalty is less than 14 years in prison, the minimum sentence a judge can give is an absolute discharge. An absolute discharge means that the person is free to go and does not have a record for a criminal conviction.


The Canadian Criminal Code divides offenses into two categories: Indictable offenses and summary conviction offenses.
Indictable Offense: is the more serious criminal offense. The punishment for indictable offenses can be from two years in jail to life imprisonment.
*Summary Offense: is considered a less serious criminal offense. It carries a possible maximum punishment of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine

Source: ...after sexual assault...; Your guide to the criminal justice system, Department of Justice Canada, Ottawa, Ontario 1991:61-62

A note from Rape Relief

In order for someone to be found guilty of a sexual assault three things must be proved in court:

  • Occurrence - that the assault actually happened.
  • Identity - that the accused person is the one who made the attack
  • Consent - that the attack was not consensual sexual activity

For more information about these points, talk to women at your local feminist rape crisis centre.

There is more information about all of these points at this website and a more thorough explanation of consent in our FAQ section.