When people think about sexual assault and social media these days, the first thought is usually for movements like the #metoo campaign. What fewer people recognize is the growing role social media is playing in the legal proceedings of sexual assault cases.
In this article Toronto sexual offence lawyer, William Jaksa, discusses this new role of social media.
Can social media activity result in sexual assault charges?
Most activities online or on social media do not constitute sexual assault. It is more common for social media to correspond with sexual harassment. In courts, prosecutors use sexual harassment online to help build their case against the accused.
The most likely online activities to constitute sexual assault would include threats, intimidation, or abuse of authority to coerce sexual activity. As well, there are a host of other social media or online activities that can result in sexual offence charges such as:
- Circulation of pornography, explicit images, sexual rumours or jokes
- Demanding sexual favours or dates
- Sexual propositions
- Derogatory gender-specific comments
- Sexual harassment
Sexual misconduct online affects people in all walks of life. A recent survey of Canadian MPs found that nearly 50% considered themselves to have been the target of sexual misconduct on social media.
What’s the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment?
Both sexual assault and sexual harassment cover a broad spectrum of activity, but they have a notable difference. Sexual assault is generally physical characterized by intentional sexual contact. Sexual harassment can include physical, verbal, mental, or environmental factors.
How is social media used in sexual assault cases?
Social media is a valuable tool for both the prosecution and the criminal defence lawyer. Online activities are used to paint a picture of both the accused and the accuser, even if the sexual assault charges are related to an offline event.
How the prosecution uses social media to support sexual assault charges
Often, sexual assault cases come down to he said, she said situations. When testimony only comes from the people directly involved, it is difficult to find the truth. So the Crown often turns to social media for direct evidence or to create a supporting character profile of the defendant.
They look at your Facebook, Twitter, emails, texts, messenger, WhatsApp, and other communication apps. Going across accounts they analyze any contact between the two parties. They search for any direct evidence of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
As well, the prosecutors examine all online activity including photos, likes, comments, posts and even who you follow online. Their goal is to establish a pattern of sexual misconduct. This adds greater credibility to their case as it paints the accused as a more likely candidate for sexual assault.
How a sexual assault lawyer uses social media in their defence
In court, social media cuts both ways. A good sexual assault lawyer does a thorough analysis of the accuser’s social media and online activity. They attempt to uncover evidence of a false accusation or a pattern of behaviour that suggests potential for a false accusation.
The best evidence a criminal defence lawyer can find is the accuser communicating a plan of false accusation in advance. It is not entirely uncommon for people to discuss such plans through email or messaging apps, not expecting them to be scrutinized.
Even if there is no direct evidence of planning a false accusation, online activity can still build a case for it. For one, any evidence of past false accusations casts significant doubt on the accuser. Even if they are just online, and were not pursued in court.
The people the accuser follow and like online can support a sexual assault defence as well. For example, if the accuser follows and/or engages accounts of people who have made false accusations for personal gain. This can suggest that they may be pursuing the same goals.
Involved in a sexual offence case? Keep it offline
If you ask any of the top criminal lawyers in Toronto they’ll give you the same advice. Whether you are the accuser or the defendant, discussing the event/case online will be used against you. It is often a gut reaction to make a public expression. The defendant wanting to protect their reputation, or the victim looking for emotional support.
However, doing so can put your case at risk. The best thing to do is avoid discussion online at all. But, at the very least, it should be avoided until the proceedings are finished so as to not endanger the case.
Hire a sexual assault lawyer in Toronto
If you are facing sexual assault charges in Toronto, you need a criminal law firm experienced in handling sexual offences. William Jaksa has helped with cases just like yours and ensures you get fair representation and that your rights are protected. Contact William Jaksa, Toronto sexual assault lawyer, today.