The “No Means No” Case

The concept that “no” actually does mean no, that there is no such thing in the law as implied consent to sexual assault, is a very important legal principle in the battle against violence against women.

The “No Means No” program has its roots in R. v Ewanchuk, a case involving the issues of consent and sexual assault. Steve Ewanchuk was a 47-year-old man charged with the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl during a job interview in his trailer. At both the trial and the Alberta Court of Appeal, Ewanchuk raised the defence of implied consent because the young woman did not scream, struggle or try to escape from his sexual advances, although she said no repeatedly. Ewanchuk was acquitted at trial and Justice John McClung upheld this decision.

Justice McClung commented on this woman’s clothing, her past sexual history, and her lifestyle. He passed judgement on her reaction to the assault while diminishing Mr Ewanchuk’s behaviour as an expression of “romantic intentions…far less criminal than hormonal.” Although the Supreme Court of Canada eventually overturned the lower court’s ruling, the judge’s attack on this young woman’s character revealed an alarming level of gender bias within the justice system.

This case is not about consent since none was given. It is about the myths and stereotypes of femininity, masculinity and the normalisation of sexualised violence. This case highlights the problem of gender stereotypes that still prevail in the legal system which inevitably undermine equality rights and perpetuate the cycle of violence.