When we hear the word “relationship,” we often think of romantic relationships, but there are all kinds of relationships. You have relationships with your friends, family members, teachers, coaches and people at school or work. The problem is that sometimes relationships can become unhealthy. It is important to know your rights when interacting with people in the relationships you have. This section includes information on bullying, dating, abuse and consent.
Bullying is an example of what can happen in an unhealthy relationship. Bullying happens when a person constantly says or does hurtful things to another person on purpose. Bullying can happen one-on-one, but it can also happen in groups of people. Like any other type of abuse, there are many different forms of bullying. These include:
Physical bullying is when someone uses their body or objects to cause harm to another person.
Examples: Hitting, punching, kicking, spitting or breaking someone’s belongings.
Verbal bullying is when someone uses their words to hurt another person.
Examples: Name-calling, put-downs, threats or teasing.
Social bullying is when someone uses their friends and relationships to hurt someone else.
Examples: Spreading rumours, gossiping, excluding others from a group or making others look foolish or unintelligent.
Cyber-bullying is when someone uses communication technologies (the Internet, social media, texts, etc.) to harass or intimidate others.
Examples: Sending mean or threatening emails/texts/messages, posting embarrassing photos of someone online or creating websites or profiles to make fun of others.
Bullying can be very traumatic, but it can also have legal implications. Some things involved in bullying can be illegal. These include:
- threats of death or harm, whether face-to-face or online
- criminal harassment (repeated bullying making you fear for your safety)
- distribution of images without your consent
- assault (pushing, tripping, slapping, hitting or spitting, etc.)
If you or someone you know is being bullied, you can go to a trusted adult for support in taking any next steps. You can tell someone like a teacher or principal, who can help you find ways to address and stop this behaviour.
It is common for someone to date another person a couple years older or younger. Sometimes an age difference is no big deal. In Canada there are rules to make sure young people are not exploited sexually. It is legal for teens that are close in age to be sexual with one another. Things can get awkward when there is a bigger age gap. If both people agree to sexual activities (consent), the older person can still be charged criminally.
When the age difference is more than a few years, there are more things to consider. Along with the emotional and physical issues, there are major legal issues to dating someone much older when you are young. For example, it is against the law for a 15-year-old to be sexual with someone older than 20. It also against the law for a 13-year-old to be sexual with anyone older than 15.
You have the right to be treated respectfully and equally. If you are in a relationship with someone much older, there are things to consider. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I in a respectful and equal relationship?
- What are the motives and reasons for wanting to date someone younger/older?
- Do we have the same interests?
Consent is one of the most important things to keep in mind when considering being sexually active. Consent for sexual activities must be freely given. There are scenarios in which a person cannot give consent. Consent cannot be given by someone who is under the age of consent (under 16 in Canada), unconscious, intoxicated or considered incapable of giving their consent.
Both partners involved should know all the activities involved and the risks associated with them (for example, sexually transmitted infections [STIs], such as herpes).
You and your partner should both want to participate. If either of you is feeling less than excited you should stop and re-evaluate.
Consent to one act does not imply consent to another one. For example, just because you kiss doesn’t mean you want to do anything more than that. You and your partner should continuously check in. Your consent can be withdrawn at any time whether with words or with actions.
Your consent as well as the consent of your partner should not be based on any kind of fear, discomfort or pressure. For example, asking someone repeatedly to do something until they cave is not consent.
In Canada you must be at least 16 years of age to consent to have sex with someone else. There are some cases where this rule can be a little different, for example,
- If you are 12–13 years of age, you can consent to have sex with someone who is no more than 2 years older.
- If you are 14–15 years of age, you can consent if the person you want to have sex with is less than 5 years older.
- If you are under 18 years of age, you cannot have sex with someone in a position of authority.
Some examples of people in authority include
- a teacher
- a babysitter
- a religious leader
- a camp counsellor
- a health care provider
- a coach
- a lawyer
- a family member
If you have reached the age of consent (16 years of age in Canada), they cannot stop you. However, they can enforce house rules and there can be consequences. If you live at home, they could punish you or give you a curfew. They may forbid you from seeing the person or even kick you out (if you have reached the age of majority in your province/territory; see age of majority chart). If you do not live at home, they could cut you off from your family or stop providing you with support. If you are under 16, they could call the police and try to charge the person. Even if it may be difficult, it might be very helpful to find a way to talk to your parents. It may be helpful to help them understand your feelings. You can let them know that you are behaving responsibly and staying safe. For more information on safe sex and your rights, please see the “Health” section of this guide beginning on page 19.
Forced marriage is illegal in Canada. If you are under 16, and your parents are forcing you to marry someone, talk to an adult you trust. Ask them to help you. If you are afraid that your parents may take you out of Canada to marry someone against your wishes you should talk to an adult you trust right away.
You have the right to feel safe and comfortable in a relationship. There are signs to watch out for when you are in any kind of relationship:
Your partner pushes, hits, injures you or destroys things when angry.
Your partner tells you what to do, what to wear or who to hang out with. They check up on you all the time or use threats (for example, they threaten to physically harm you or themselves) to make you do certain things or behave in certain ways.
Your partner calls you names, intentionally puts you down or makes you feel bad in front of others.
You do not know what will set your partner off; you feel like you are walking on eggshells.
Your partner pushes you to do things you do not want to do or are not ready for, including sex or using drugs/alcohol. They do not take “no” for an answer or use threats/ultimatums.
Stalking behaviour often happens when one person wants power and control over the other person. Stalking can take many forms such as:
- calling you on your cell phone over and over again
- using the internet, text message or any electronic means to constantly message you, especially if the messages are threatening or harrassing
- hanging around outside your classrooms, near your locker, your house or where you work
- following you and showing up wherever you are
- sending you unwanted gifts
Yes. Serious kinds of stalking behaviours are illegal. This is also known as criminal harassment. Unfortunately, because it often depends on the circumstance, there is no direct definition of “serious stalking.” Generally, stalking is repeated behaviour that makes you feel afraid.
- If a stranger follows you down the street one time, it may frighten you, but it’s probably not criminal harassment.
- If it is your ex who is following you, AND they said they were going to follow you until you get back together, this is criminal harassment.
Stalking behaviour can be hard to identify, even if you are the person being stalked. Sometimes it can start as feeling friendly or even romantic, but after time it becomes irritating and frightening.
If you feel unsafe, tell a friend or a trusted adult about your stalker, so they can keep an eye out for them. You can also let the police know. The police may be able to charge the stalker if it is criminal harassment. They will need information on what has been happening to decide what to do. Take notes in a calendar, either written down on paper or on your computer or phone, to have a daily account of what is happening. It is a good idea to keep gifts, phone messages, social media posts, text messages, notes or emails or other things that may be considered evidence of repeated, unwanted behaviour.
You can also go to the office of a justice of the peace, located in every courthouse, to get a peace bond. A peace bond is an agreement to keep the peace and be on good behaviour for up to one year. It would include terms like no contact, something that requires the person to stay a certain distance away from your home, school, work, etc. If the person does not agree to the peace bond, it will go to a court hearing. At the hearing, a judge decides if they will impose the peace bond on them anyway. In some provinces you can get what is called a protection order, this involves going to tell your story in front of a Justice of the Peace and if they believe you are in need of one, they will grant you this order. This is very similar to a peach bond, but you do not have to let the other person know about it in advance.
Abuse and assault can come in many forms. Some forms do not cause physical harm, but they are still not okay. You have the right not to be abused, assaulted or harmed in any way.
Some examples of abuse and assault are:
When someone touches you physically without your permission or consent. Intentional and unwanted contact with you or something close to your body.
You do not have to be injured for the person to be charged with assault. If you are injured, the person can be charged with a more serious offence.
Examples: Blocking a door way, grabbing you when you’re trying to leave, kicking, punching, biting, spitting, slapping, choking, threatening to harm you, using weapons, throwing things, breaking things, punching walls/doors, driving recklessly, burning, cutting, pulling hair, stabbing, strangling, pinching, shoving, tying or confining you, preventing you from seeking medical care, etc.
When someone touches you in a sexual way without your permission or consent.
Examples: Touching your breasts or chest area, your genital area or any other part of your body if it is done in a sexual manner, non-consensual sexual acts, forcing you to watch someone else have sex, forcing you to watch pornography, rape, unwanted sexual touching, vulgar comments, pressure for sex, forcing you to have unprotected sex, forcing you to get pregnant, forcing you to sext, forcing you to have sex with other people, etc.
When someone employs the use of technologies, such as the internet and social media, to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate you.
Examples: Demanding your passwords on social media platforms, threatening to or sharing intimate photos of you without your consent, making fake accounts to monitor your behaviour online, telling you who you can or cannot be friends with on social media, constantly texting you and making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone, etc.
When someone plays mind games with you and puts you down.
Examples: Twisting everything around so nothing is their fault and saying all of their behaviour was caused by something you did/didn’t do, accusing you of doing things that they are doing, lying, manipulating you for control or sex, threatening to “out” you to parents/friends/ classmates, distorting reality, etc.
When someone constantly belittles, puts down or calls you names.
Examples: Insults, put-downs, intimidating you, embarrassing you in public, talking down to you, not listening to you or respecting your feelings, making threats, telling you you’re not LGBTQ or man/woman enough, strong enough, being jealous, possessive, controlling, sending excessive or threatening texts, wanting access to your messages, email, etc., spying on you, checking up on you, accusing you of cheating, making you feel like you need to justify yourself, giving you no privacy, shaming you for your sexual orientation, yelling, shouting, swearing, continuously arguing, interrupting, talking over you, putting you down, using loud and threatening language and/or tone to cause fear, name-calling, intimidating you, mocking you, abusive language, etc.
When someone restricts or overly scrutinizes access to your own money.
Examples: Withholding money, opening up a joint account that you don’t have access to, forcing you to leave your job, forcing you to get fired, shaming you for how you spend your own money, not allowing you to work or get an education, putting all the bills/credit cards in your name, placing your paycheck in their account and denying you access to it, forbidding you to work or limiting the hours you can work, getting you fired, etc.
Remember, you are not alone. According to loveisrespect.org, 1 in 10 high school students have experienced some form of abuse from a partner. There are steps you can take. Once you understand that these behaviours are not okay, talk to a trusted adult, friend or family member, create a safety plan or get a restraining order. Most importantly do not make excuses for someone else’s abusive behaviour.