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Intimate Images: Legal Information for Youth

This guide provides general information and answers some common questions about intimate images and the law. The legal information is intended for youth under age 18.

This information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend consulting with a lawyer to get legal advice about your specific situation.

A Note on Language: Language is important. It holds a lot of power. You may or may not identify with the word “survivor” or “victim”. Police, lawyers, judges, and others involved in the legal system may refer to you as a “victim”, “plaintiff”, “witness”, or “complainant” even though you may not identify with any of these terms. This is the language used by the legal system and in courts and does not mean you or your reaction to the incident is being judged. In this guide, we use the term “survivor.” We know that not everyone who has experienced sexual violence and/or intimate partner violence will identify this way. However you identify is ok.

If you would like to speak with a Legal Support Navigator (LSN), you can reach us through email, text, phone, or our social media pages. We are available Monday to Friday, 9:00am – 4:00pm.

TEL 1-709-722-2805
TOLL-FREE/VRS 1-833-722-2805
TEXT: 709-986-2801

What is consent to sexual activity?

Consent is when a person communicates that they agree to take part in a specific sexual activity. Consent is ongoing and includes giving and receiving permission. It is always required for any type of sexual activity, including sexual activity that takes place online. This includes platforms like Facebook, SnapChat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Messenger, and other social media apps, as well as by text message, email, or other forms of electronic communication.

It is against the law to engage in sexual activity with someone if there is no consent.

The law says that you must always have affirmative consent to each sexual activity as it is happening. Affirmative consent means the person is saying or doing something to show they agree with what is happening. Just because a person is not saying “no” does not mean consent is given. Silence or inaction is not giving consent.

There are some situations where the law says a person cannot consent to sexual activity. This includes when:

  • The person is asleep or unconscious.
  • The person has been forced or threatened to say “yes”, or is otherwise afraid to say no.
  • If someone has abused their position of trust, power, or authority to convince you to say yes to sexual activity (for example, a coach, spiritual leader, elder, teacher, boss, tutor). This is called sexual exploitation.
  • The person is too young to give consent.
  • The person is affected by drugs or alcohol so much that they can’t give legal consent. Drugs and alcohol can affect decision-making, the ability to control your body, and the ability to communicate.

Age of Consent to Sexual Activity

The law says how old you must be to consent to sexual activity. It also says how much of an age gap there can be between two young people to legally consent to sexual activity.

Children under age 12 cannot consent to any form of sexual activity.

The age of consent to sexual activity in Canada is 16. This means that once you have turned 16, you are legally old enough to make decisions about sexual activity. There are some exceptions to this law.

Close in Age Exceptions

If the age gap is less than two calendar years older than you, you can consent to sexual activity. The age gap is measured from birthday to birthday. There must also be no relationship of trust, authority, or dependence between the two people. This might include someone in a position of power over you, like a coach, teacher, elder, tutor, etc.

If the age gap is less than five calendar years older than you, you can consent to sexual activity. The age gap is measured from birthday to birthday. There must also be no relationship of trust, authority, or dependence between the two people. This might include someone in a position of power over you, like a coach, teacher, elder, tutor, etc.

It is not legal to have sexual contact with someone under the age of 18 if there is a relationship of trust, authority, or dependence. This might include someone in a position of power over you like a coach, teacher, elder, tutor, etc.

What is an intimate image?

An intimate image is defined by law as any photo, video, or other visual recording that shows a person’s genitals, anal region, or breasts, or involves persons engaged in sexually explicit activity. An intimate image can be a permanent image like a photo, a video, a screenshot, or a disappearing image like a Snapchat or FaceTime call.

The person in the image expected the image to be seen and/or shared only among people of their choosing.

Texting, emailing, DMing, or otherwise sharing an intimate image of yourself to another person is sometimes called sexting. You have done nothing wrong if you have taken an intimate photo or video of yourself.  It is also not your fault if someone has shared that photo or video without your permission.

Sharing Intimate Images without Consent

It is against the law to share an intimate image of anyone of any age without their consent, if they thought the image was private when it was made, and they thought it would stay private.

Sharing, showing, sending, texting, emailing, or messaging intimate images without permission is called distribution of intimate images. It is a crime under section 162.1 (1) of the Criminal Code. Sometimes this happens as a form of cyberbullying, harassment, or dating violence. Sometimes people show pictures to their friends without the permission of the person in the image, or they have been reckless, meaning they didn’t take steps to find out if they had permission. It doesn’t matter how or why a picture has been shared, if there is no consent, it is against the law.

If a person has an intimate image of someone else on their phone, computer, or on a social media site, it is their responsibility not to share or show that image to anyone else unless the person in the image has given their consent to do so. Sharing that image without consent could lead to a criminal charge.

As well, if the person in the image is under the age of 18, they could be charged with possession of child pornography under section 163.1 of the Criminal Code.

If someone has shared an intimate image of you without your consent, it is not your fault. There are options available.

What are my options?

If someone has shared an intimate image of you without your permission or is threatening to share an image, we encourage you to talk to a trusted adult, supportive community organization, or other supportive service. You do not have to go through this alone and there are people who can help. The Journey Project can help support you and connect you with additional resources.

Reporting To Police

Under the law, sharing an intimate image without permission is a serious crime. If the people in the image or video are under 18, child pornography laws apply.

If someone has shared an image, video or recording of you, or if they are threatening to share an image, you can report to the police.

Civil Litigation

If someone has shared an intimate image of you without your permission, you or your parents/guardians may be able to take civil legal action against them. Under our legal system, this is often referred to as suing someone. When you sue someone, it is because they have harmed you in some way. If a court finds the person responsible, it might order the person to pay you money, order them to stop sharing the image, or order them to remove the image from the internet.

This option does not result in criminal charges or jail time but might help to protect your privacy and repair some of the harm that was caused.

Additional Information

The Criminal Code defines child pornography as a visual representation that shows a person who is or appears to be under the age of eighteen years and is engaged in or appears to be engaged in explicit sexual activity. Child pornography is a crime under s. 163.1 (1) of the Criminal Code.

While it is important to understand the Criminal Code terminology, this is problematic language. Children cannot consent to participating in pornography. We might use language like ‘child sexual abuse material’ instead of child pornography.

Depending on the situation, there may be other criminal offences related to the sharing of intimate images without consent:

Distributing Child Pornography – Distribution is when someone transmits, makes available, distributes, sells, advertises, imports, exports or possesses for the purpose of transmission, making available, distribution, sale, advertising, or exportation of child pornography. Distribution is a crime under s. 161 (3) of the Criminal Code.

Possession of Child Pornography – Possession refers to having or owning child pornography material. It is a crime under s. 161 (4) of the Criminal Code.

Accessing Child Pornography – Accessing means causing child pornography to be viewed by or sent to oneself. It is a crime under s. 161 (4.1)

Extortion – Under the Criminal Code, extortion refers to forcing or threatening someone to do something by using “threats, accusations, menaces, or violence.” This could potentially include threatening to share intimate images of a person unless they pay money or do other things. Extortion is a crime under s. 346 of the Criminal Code.

Criminal Harassment – Criminal harassment occurs when someone causes another person to feel unsafe. This can be done by repeatedly following someone; repeatedly communicating with them through text, email, social media apps; stalking someone at home or at their place of work; or engaging in threatening conduct with the person or their family. Criminal harassment is a crime under s. 264 of the Criminal Code. This is commonly known as ‘stalking’.

Common Questions

Intimate images of people under 18 are legal only when everyone follows all these requirements [1]:

  •  Everyone in the image consented to the sexual activity shown in the image.
  •  Everyone in the image is old enough to give consent.
  •  Everyone in the image knows that someone is making an intimate image of them.
  •  Everyone in the image consents to someone making an intimate image of them.
  • The people who create the image must keep it private between them. No one can share the image with anyone else.

The image, video or recording can only be kept for personal use. This means it cannot be shared with anyone.

Is the image considered child pornography under the law?

The Supreme Court of Canada (R. v. Sharpe) has said that the material remains child pornography, but the youth can lawfully keep it for their own personal use.

You should always ask the other person if it is ok to send them an intimate image. Sending unsolicited or unwanted pictures is a form of sexual violence.

While it is common for people to send intimate images, for example sexting or sending nudes, it is not necessarily clear how the law applies to situations of consensual sexting among youth under the age of 18.

If a young person takes an intimate image of themselves and chooses to send it to someone else, it is possible that criminal laws related to the making or distribution of child pornography laws could apply. However, it is not clear if the police would choose to lay criminal charges against the person who took and sent the image. The law is unclear about this specific issue and about whether the personal use exceptions described above would also apply to sending intimate images to other people.

If you have questions related to sexting or the sending of intimate images, we recommend you speak with a lawyer. The Journey Project can connect you with a lawyer for free legal advice through our Legal Support Service.