Information for sexual assault survivors
On this page
- What is sexual assault?
- What is consent?
- What are your choices after a sexual assault?
- What will happen when you report the assault to police?
- What can you expect during the court process?
- How can you support a survivor of sexual assault?
Sexual assault has traumatic and long lasting effects on survivors.
Please remember that sexual assault is never your fault. Sexual assault is the fault of the person who commits the crime.
Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault regardless of:
- sexual orientation
- cultural background
If you report a sexual assault to the RCMP, we will treat you with kindness and respect and investigate your complaint completely. We are here to help and support you.
There's no time limit to report an assault to police. Even if you were assaulted years ago, you can still report it to police. Many survivors do not report right away, and choose to do so later in their lives.
If you choose to report the assault later, you can still bring a support person with you when you make the report.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is an abuse of power and trust.
A sexual assault happens when someone touches another person, sexually, without consent. A person can also use physical force or a position of authority in a sexual assault against another person.
Sexual assault can include unwanted touching, kissing or any other unwanted sexual activity including penetration or attempted penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus.
What is consent?
Sexual consent is an agreement, freely given, to take part in a sexual activity. Both people must agree to sex, every single time, for it to be consensual.
You have the right to withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity.
Even if you've consented to start a sexual act with someone, you have the right to stop it at any time. If you consent to one kind of sexual activity it does not mean that you consent to other sexual activity.
You cannot consent if you are, or feel:
You cannot consent when:
- someone uses their authority or perceived authority
- someone uses physical force or threats
- you are intoxicated to the point that you cannot provide consent
- you have an intellectual disability/mental health problem which prevents you from making an informed decision or fully understand the possible results of sexual activity
The legal age of consent in Canada is 16 years old
However, people under 16 years can have consensual sex with someone close in age:
- 12 to 13 year olds (two-year older age difference)
- 14 to 15 year olds (five-year older age difference)
Individuals under 18 years old cannot consent to sex where:
- The other consenting party is in a position of trust, authority or there is a dependency on that person
- There is an activity of exploitation (e.g., pornography, sex work/prostitution)
What are your choices after a sexual assault?
You can get emergency help
Call 911 or your local emergency services if:
- You are in danger
- You need medical attention
- You would like to speak to police immediately
You can seek out support services
As a survivor of sexual assault, you can choose which services are best for you and when to engage them.
You can contact victim services in your area to receive support. Victim services can also connect you with other support groups and community resources such as:
- sexual assault crisis centres
- psychological services
- other service providers
You can report to the police directly
If you are not in immediate danger and wish to report a sexual assault, you can contact your local police station to make a report. You may choose to make a report for information purposes only.
Reporting a sexual assault can help you seek justice and start the healing process. Survivors who report a sexual assault also contribute to police records, which can help identify repeat offenders.
You can report to the police through a third party
If you chose not to report sexual assault to the police directly, you may be able to report the crime through a third party.
Third party reporting is when someone else reports the crime to police. It allows survivors who do not want to report the crime directly to ensure police receive a report about the crime.
In different provinces, survivors may be able to report the sexual assault to police though a community based victim service program.
You can choose not to report
You can choose not to report sexual assault to the police.
You should still look into seeking medical attention and/or mental health support through local medical services or community agencies.
What will happen when you report the assault to police?
If you choose to report a sexual assault to police, you will be asked to:
- provide a description of the occurrence (what happened: who, what, when, where, etc.)
- provide a statement that may be audio or video recorded
- The recording can take place in the detachment, or in some cases, in a mutually agreed upon safe location
- Don't worry if you feel unable to remember every detail
- clarify details through interview questions
- provide the names of any suspects, witnesses, and bystanders
- provide any physical evidence, such as photos of injuries and clothing
- keep in touch with the investigator/detachment
- contact them if you remember more details or information that might help the investigation
You can expect the investigator to ask questions about the incident to get a better understanding of what happened or to help you remember some details.
Don't worry if you can't provide all this information at the initial interview. Often, trauma can affect our ability to recount incidents in chronological order. You can always follow up with the investigator with any details you remember after the interview.
If you want your report to be investigated, police will:
- gather evidence, such as a Sexual Assault Examination Kit, statements, witness accounts, etc.
- conduct interviews with you, the subject of the complaint, as well as possible witnesses
In all cases, you can choose to stop participating in the investigation at any time, even if you have already provided a statement.
Tips to help police investigations
Hold on to any items you had with you as they can be evidence. But remember, you can always report a sexual assault even if you are not able to preserve evidence.
If the sexual assault was recent and if possible, avoid:
- washing yourself
- changing your clothes
- brushing your hair
If you can, write down, record, or tell someone you trust all the details of the assault you can remember.
The more information and evidence that police have to support the investigation, the greater the chance that the offender will be brought to justice.
The Sexual Assault Evidence Kit
After a sexual assault, medical professionals use a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit to collect and save biological evidence, such as:
- bodily fluids
- skin transfer from the perpetrator
This evidence is collected using swabs, blood samples, DNA samples and photographs. Once collected, it can help convict the offender when the case goes to court. Collecting these samples in a kit is most effective within one week of the assault.
The process for the kit is voluntary and requires your consent. You can stop the process at any time.
Please remember that evidence can still be collected even if you showered, brushed your hair or washed your clothes.
If you decide to proceed with a kit, they are normally done at a hospital or crisis/support centre. You can choose to:
- have a kit done and ask for police involvement Footnote 1
- have a kit done but request no police involvement
- many hospitals/support centres can store the kit for a period of time which will give you an option to involve police at a later date
While the evidence collected through a kit may help support elements of the crime, police can investigate even if an examination kit is not used (including if a survivor declines) or used outside the five-day timeframe.
In some hospitals, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (nurses who are specially trained in providing care to patients who have experienced a sexual assault) will complete the kit.
Do police always lay charges?
After an investigation, police are not always able to lay charges. This does not mean that the police do not believe you or that the sexual assault did not happen.
Police consult with Crown prosecutors to discuss the details of cases and offences to determine if they can lay charges. If no charges are laid, it may mean that there is not enough evidence to prove a criminal charge in court. If this happens, the police officer can explain these decisions to you.
There are times where offenders are not identified, or caught. Unsolved sexual assault cases are never closed, they remain open. If more information is received, the investigation will continue, which can lead to an arrest or charges.
What can you expect during the court process?
If the investigation leads to criminal charges, police put together a case information package (disclosure package). This package is provided to the Crown Counsel's (prosecutor's) office and shared with Defence Counsel.
The Crown then presents the case in a court setting, in front of a provincial/territorial court judge.
In the courtroom
You should be aware that the courtroom is open to the public. The person who assaulted you, and court personnel such as clerks, will also be in the room. Anyone interviewed during the investigation can be called to testify in court to re-tell their story about the incident. This might include:
- the subject of the complaint
- subject matter experts
- police officers
If you feel that you need support during the court process, victim services in your area can provide this support.
Giving a Victim Impact Statement
As a victim of crime, you have a right to submit a Victim Impact Statement to the court. It is your chance to tell the court the impacts of the crime.
The statement is your description of the emotional, physical and financial harm that the crime has had on you. You are not required to complete a statement but if you do, it is presented during the sentencing hearing. Your statement will not be used in deciding guilt or innocence, but the judge may consider it when sentencing a guilty person(s).
How can you support a survivor of sexual assault?
Persons who have been sexually assaulted need the support of people who love and care about them. They may feel:
It is important not to judge them. Be supportive of the choices they make during the process. It is extremely important that a survivor of sexual assault makes the decisions on what they want to do. This can help them regain a sense of control. Telling them what to do may reinforce a sense of powerlessness that comes from the assault.
Things to keep in mind
- Listening is often the best way to support a victim of sexual assault
- Emphasize that what happened is never their fault, it is the fault of the person who committed the crime
- If you can, provide resources, such as contact information for sexual assault hotlines or rape crisis centres
- Help them seek medical attention
- Support them if they want to report the crime to the police or a third party
- The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights
- Who is a victim of crime?
- Information and assistance for victims of crime
- How to make a complaint to the Office of the Federal Ombudsman of Crime
- How to make a complaint under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights
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