Learn about the realities of reporting – how to and what to expect.
If you have experienced sexual violence, the decision of whether or not to report can be difficult. You have the right not to involve police if you don’t want to. Trust your sense of what is best for you. Contact your local sexual assault centre for support and to find out how the reporting process and justice system works.
There are reasons why only 5% of victims report sexual violence.[Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2014, Statistics Canada.] Provincial and national advocates and coalitions contend that the reporting of sexual assaults seldom increases support to victims and in fact, more often causes re-traumatization.[Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) and Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes | AOcVF] Becoming visible as a survivor can carry risk and stigma. High profile cases have brought online harassment and even death threats to those already victimized.[Moss, Tara. ‘Not just words’: Online harassment of women is epidemic.] These are hard realities.
Often, victims don’t want to report sexual violence because they:
- Want the situation to be over
- Don’t wish to recount their experience to others
- Don’t want to go through the hours of process of physically collecting evidence at a hospital immediately after the assault
- Fear being cross-examined, a common procedure in formal reporting processes. The credibility of sexual assault victim-survivors is frequently questioned when reporting sexual assault
- Are worried about the consequences of sharing their story. Often, a “victim’s” apparent lack of resistance becomes the focus of assessment and intervention” in court and in the context of other reporting procedures
The majority of all reported sexual assault cases are not resolved through the criminal justice system. According to Canadian research, 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported to the police, and just 29 are actually recorded as a crime. While these numbers speak volumes about how many assailants walk free, and why women may be afraid to press charges against their abusers, sexual assault is also a difficult crime to prove — there are rarely any witnesses and not always physical evidence. Should a sexual assault case progress through the criminal justice system, much is expected of the survivor and her testimony during the case.
See this Infographic
Anyone who has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child under 16 is or may be in need of protection, must promptly report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to a Children’s Aid Society.
If you decide to report
Even with all of the information about how difficult the process can be, 5% of victims report in the hope of finding justice.[Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2014, Statistics Canada.] There is no time limit for you to go to the police and report a sexual assault.
Collecting Evidence - Immediately after the assault:
Seek support for yourself. Contact your local sexual assault centre or hospital-based sexual assault treatment units, where available. You don’t have to decide right away if you are going to report it to police. There are things you need to know to keep your options open.
- The evidence is time sensitive – the longer you wait to gather it, the more it deteriorates. Collecting evidence does not mean you have to report the assault. You will have time later to make a decision.
- Don’t shower – the water will take away the DNA evidence.
- Go to a hospital and ask them to do a “rape kit” so that you have the physical evidence documented. Take someone with you for support. Expect it to be a lengthy process.
- There are specialized sexual violence and domestic violence treatment units in some hospitals in Ontario. The staff in the treatment units have had sexual violence training and the hospital has dedicated space that treats only sexual and domestic violence cases. If your hospital does not have a treatment unit, ask to be seen by someone who has training in sexual violence. In all situations, you should be believed and treated with respect. If you feel that is not happening, you have a right to ask for someone else to see you. You can also make a formal complaint.
- You have an option to put your name on the rape kit evidence or to remain anonymous. The rape kit evidence will be stored with the police for one year. The police will not act on it unless you ask them to.
Listen to Sommer talk about collecting evidence after a sexual assault and the rape kit:
You can report for information only.
If you decide that you do not want to be directly involved in the legal process, you can still advise police that a crime has occurred. You can provide the police with a statement, written in your own words, and direct them not to take further steps to investigate. The police will usually respect your wishes. However, in some cases, such as public safety or if there is a child protection concern, the police are obligated to investigate.
The legal process
Reporting and the Criminal Justice System[Toronto Police and Victim Services have written a guide for Survivors that describes the Criminal Justice System process]
- Before you begin your report, ask the police officer to review with you the entire process you can expect to go through for making a report. Making a police statement will likely involve the police conducting an audio-visual statement at the police station. YOU CAN TAKE A SUPPORT PERSON WITH YOU.
- Once you make a statement to the police, the investigation and direction of the case is in the hands of the police. If they decide it is a public safety issue, you will not likely have input about whether or not charges are laid.
- If the police find evidence of a crime, a warrant is obtained and the person is charged. Depending on the circumstances, the police can hold the accused in custody for a bail hearing or release them with conditions. The accused must go before a judge within 24 hours of the arrest for a bail hearing.
- At the bail hearing, the judge decides if the accused is granted bail or kept in jail. If released on bail, there may be conditions imposed on the accused such as to have no contact with the victim.
- The police forward a report to Crown Attorney (a lawyer representing the province or Crown). Based on the evidence, the Crown Attorney decides to proceed with the case to court or not. A preliminary hearing may take place where a judge decides if the Crown Attorney has enough evidence for a trial.
- The Crown Attorney is not your lawyer. However, you are considered a key witness for the Crown at these proceedings. The Crown Attorney will schedule meetings to inform you of courtroom procedure and the questions you may be asked.
- In most areas, a Victim Witness Assistance Program worker may be available to help prepare you for your role as witness.
- If the case proceeds to court, you will be called as a witness to describe your experience of the sexual assault. Cases can take between a couple of months to a couple of years to process. Going to court is a very individual experience; some people are empowered to have their story heard, and to face their abuser in court, while others can find it to be a difficult experience.
- If the accused is found guilty, they may appeal the sentence. A judge can make different kinds of sentences including probation, a suspended sentence with probation, time in jail and time in jail carried out on weekends.
No matter the outcome, sexual violence is never your fault. Seek support for yourself from friends and family and from sexual assault centre services in your area. There are caring people in every community, reach out and find them.