Updated: Mar 23, 2021
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Content warning: sexual assault
Executive Summary: This post outlines the general steps in reporting sexual assault in Canada and is informed by established police reporting guidelines across Canada for adults who can report sexual assault on their own behalf. The reporting process may vary slightly depending on your location in Canada. If you find that your experience with reporting sexual assault does not follow these general steps, please contact a local sexual assault agency or crisis line for support and guidance in this process.
My name is Brittany Pompilii, and my pronouns are she/her. I reside on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabewaki, Attiwonderonk, Mississauga, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations peoples. This land is currently known as Niagara, Ontario. As the author of this post, I acknowledge that my privilege, and therefore my experiences, inform my perspectives on sexual violence, the criminal justice system, and reporting sexual assault. I want to acknowledge that my privilege has provided me safety and protection within the criminal justice system across my life as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender woman. I do not intend to speak on behalf of all women who have experienced sexual assault or have reported sexual assault to police, especially the experiences of BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ2S+ folks. In addition, I recognize that my work experience in the sexual assault and domestic violence field impacts my writing on these topics. As such, some of the information presented in this post comes from my own professional knowledge of reporting sexual assault and consultations with individuals working in law enforcement and social services.
As a research team member, I am committed to using my research and writing skills to help all women access public health information - a right that all women are entitled to yet do not always receive. I hope that one day, the public health system represents all peoples’ experiences and treats all people equitably. Until that day, I hope to continue advocating for women and their health and safety in any way I can.
Lastly, as you read this post, please keep in mind that previous research indicates that BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ2S+ folks are disproportionately impacted by sexual assault and are treated differently within the criminal justice system than White, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender folks. Since individuals who identify as BIPOC, disabled, and/or LGBTQ2S+ do not fit the criminal justice system’s view of an ‘ideal victim’ of sexual assault, these folks are often dismissed, trivialized, and treated unfairly during sexual assault reporting processes (7).
To report sexual assault to police of any level in Canada, you may follow the steps below. Please note that you can receive support, advocacy, and other social services without reporting sexual assault to police. Sexual assault agencies across Canada do not require sexual violence to be reported for survivors to access their services (2). Remember: it is your choice, and your choice alone, whether or not you report the crime to the police.
If you would like more information about levels of sexual assault in Canada, please read our FAQ here.
If you would like more information about Sexual Assault Evidence Kits (i.e. rape kits), please read our FAQ here.
The following guide outlines the step-by-step process for reporting sexual assault in Canada. The steps are:
Step-by-step: How to report sexual assault in Canada
Step 1 - Getting Support
If you are not in immediate danger, and/or you are hesitant to call the police immediately after a sexual assault, it may be beneficial to call a 24/7 crisis line operated by a sexual assault or police-based victim services agency. Click here for Ending Violence Association of Canada’s comprehensive, updated list of all sexual assault agencies in Canada with their agency and crisis line phone numbers.
Most crisis line operators in Canada are trained in client-centred counselling techniques and trauma-informed approaches (6). This means that the operators are there to listen to you, believe you, and validate the experiences you went through. Crisis line operators may or may not encourage you to contact police. The overall goal of these calls is to make sure you are in a safe space and not in any sort of danger. Operators can give you resources, conduct a referral or complete an intake with you, depending on the agency. This means that after your call, you will be connected to a sexual assault support agency or Victim Services branch that can support you in whatever way you need. You will not be forced to attend counselling, appointments, or other services if you do not want to; the resources are only there to support you and your decisions.
Furthermore, if you express a desire to report the sexual assault to police, agencies can offer advocacy services to ensure you have support in the reporting process, if you would like it (6). This means an individual will come with you and support you through the reporting process and will advocate† on your behalf, if needed.
Step 2 - Reporting
Contact police services. If the sexual assault just occurred, is occurring in the moment, and/or you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
Step 2A - Calling the Police via Non-Emergency Line
If you contact the police by calling the local police station’s non-emergency line (not 9-1-1) and you are not in immediate danger, a uniformed officer will immediately come to the location you provide, and they will assess your physical and emotional needs (3; 8). This assessment can take up to an hour, depending on your needs. Note: A uniformed officer will be dispatched to your location anytime you call the non-emergency line. This does not mean you have to give your statement to them.
Once the officer arrives, an ambulance may be called, if deemed necessary. An ambulance may be dispatched anyway based on the way you are talking on the phone (i.e. if you sound like you are in pain, or you suggest you are physically injured). If no ambulance is called, the police officer may begin the investigation into what happened (8). If the sexual assault has occurred just then, or very recently, the officer may ask you to come to the police station to give your statement rather than doing the investigation in your home. This is to respect your privacy, your space and ensure your safety.
If you are reporting historical child abuse or sexual assault that occurred longer ago, a uniformed officer will still be dispatched to your location, however, you can choose to give your statement at a police station (8). In all cases, police officers will choose to take your statement using an option that works best for you, your safety and your mental health. This means it is up to you where you would like to give your statement.
Step 2B - Contacting Police at the Police Station
Instead of calling the police non-emergency line, you can walk into a police station to provide a statement about a sexual assault (3). You do not have to call ahead.
Step 2C - Contacting Police to Report Sexual Assault as a Sex Worker
If you are a sex worker, you will not be charged for engaging in sex work, even if the sexual assault occurred while you were working. Your rights are protected during the reporting process, and you can share this context of the sexual assault with police if you are comfortable doing so (8).
Note: Sex workers report high levels of violence, harrassment, and violations of human rights when reporting sexual assault to police (1), therefore reporting to police may not be the safest option if you are a sex worker.
Step 2D - Reporting Sexual Assault as a Canadian Newcomer
If you are involved with Canadian Immigration proceedings (ie. current or pending immigration status), reporting a sexual assault will not interfere with those processes You can safely report a sexual assault without jeopardixing your current or future immigration status (8).
Step 3 - Giving a Statement
A different police officer - typically a detective specialized in handling sexual assault cases - will ask basic questions about the sexual assault and take your formal statement (8). Before providing a statement, you have the option of a male-identified or female-identified detective. This investigative interview may take place at the police station, in your home, or another private location, such as an office at a sexual assault agency. It is dependent on where you would like the interview to take place.
If you have contacted a sexual assault support agency or a Victim Services branch, you have the option to have an advocate† with you at this interview stage. You may also have a support person, such as a friend or family member, accompany you. However, officers prefer to ask you questions alone to minimize interferences and increase your privacy and safety. If needed, the officer will contact appropriate agencies to assist survivors with disabilities (i.e. interpretation services) (8). At this step, you will provide your statement of the sexual assault.
Step 3A - Reviewing Your Statement
The police officer or detective will ask you to read and review your statement after the interview is over. In some cases, your statement will be video or audio-recorded (3). You can change, remove, or add details to your statement at this time. One or two detectives will be assigned to your case, and they will give you their contact information so you can contact them directly, instead of calling the non-emergency line.
Step 3B - Withdrawing Your Statement
At any time, you are able to stop giving a statement. You are not obligated to continue giving a statement and you are free to withdraw the statement at any point.
Step 3C - Support Services
If you are not in contact with a support agency already, the police officer will provide you with resources and contact information for sexual assault support agencies, Victim Services, and other relevant organizations in the surrounding region. In most instances, the officer will give you a card with these agencies’ phone numbers and emails on it. The officer will ask for your consent to give your contact information to Victim Services; Victim Services will connect you to other agencies. Many agencies have specialized programs for sexual assault survivors and can provide you with safety tools (such as panic alarms), if needed. You do not have to engage with these services, but it will be an option provided to you. If you do not consent to giving your contact information to Victim Services, the police officer will give you a business card with information you can use to contact them if you need Victim Services support in the future.
Note: Victim Services are a police-based service available across Canada. All victims of sexual assault have a right to access these services, however, not all police stations have a Victim Services branch.
Step 3D - Safety Planning After Reporting
The police may suggest you do not return home after giving your statement, or suggest you stay with a friend or family member for safety.
Step 4 - Completing a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit
After you provide your statement and this part of the investigation is over, the officer may ask you to go to the hospital to have a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) done (3; 6). SAEKs are recommended to be completed within 12 days of the sexual assault. If you report a sexual assault after 12 days from the occurrence, you will not be asked to get a SAEK done. To read more information about SAEKs, see our FAQ response here. In any case, you are not required to get a SAEK done, and an officer cannot force you to have one completed (3). This decision is completely yours to make.
Step 5 - Following Up
The detective may contact you to ask follow up questions on the case. These questions are typically about witnesses to the sexual assault or about your statement. During this time, you can add to your statement and clarify details that may have been unclear or report any new contact you have with the perpetrator.
Step 6 - Police Investigation
The detective(s) will use this time to gather enough evidence to lay a charge against the perpetrator. This period can take as short as a day or as long as a week. The timeline will depend on the evidence collected, and if it is enough to charge the perpetrator (6). Without enough concrete evidence, the police cannot lay a charge. This does not mean the case will close; all sexual assault cases remain open until more information, evidence, and/or witnesses come forward.
After this step, there will either be a charge laid or not. If a charge is laid, there will be additional legal processes to convict the perpetrator of sexual assault. If no charge is laid, the perpetrator faces no legal consequences for their actions (6). Regardless of a charge, you are able to receive social support services, such as counselling, safety planning, crisis support, housing support, etc. from any sexual assault agency in your region, including Victim Services.
Children and Reporting Sexual Assault
The process of a child (under 16 years old) reporting sexual assault follows the similar steps outlined above, however, the child’s parent has the ability to report sexual assault on behalf of their child. If the parent does report sexual assault on behalf of their child, the police will still need the child’s statement to file the report (5).
Furthermore, if you have the suspicion that a child has been sexually assaulted, or is at risk of sexual assault, it is your legal duty to report this to a local Children’s Aid Society (also known as Family and Child Services in some regions) (4). If child sexual assault is not reported, it is considered child abuse, which is a criminal offence in Canada. It is the responsibility of the Children’s Aid Society to investigate the report with police (5).
If you would like more information about how to report sexual assault in your region, call your local police non-emergency line.
Find out more on the different levels of sexual assaults in Canada.
† An advocate refers to a professional working at a local sexual assault agency. An advocate is specially trained to provide emotional support for survivors during a SAEK examination.
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Chu SKH, Clamen J & Santini T. The perils of “protection”: Sex workers’ experiences of law enforcement in Ontario. Ontario: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; 2019. Available from: https://www.actioncanadashr.org/sites/default/files/2019-04/2807_HIVLegalNetwork_SexWorkerDocumentation_Report_English_Final.pdf.
Department of Justice. Bill C-46: Records Applications Post-Mills, A Caselaw Review. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2015 Jan. 7. Available from: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/ccs-ajc/rr06_vic2/p3_4.html.
Edmonton Police Service. What you can expect when reporting a sexual assault. Edmonton: Edmonton Police Service; 2019. Available from: https://www.edmontonpolice.ca/CommunityPolicing/PersonalPropertyCrimes/SexualAssault/ReportingSexualAssault.
Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect: It’s Your Duty. Ontario: ServiceOntario Publications (CAN); 2019.
Rimer P & Beniuk L. Understanding child sexual abuse: A guide for parents & caregivers. Toronto: Child Development Institute; 2006.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Information for sexual assault survivors. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2019 Aug. 22. Available from: https://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/relationship-violence/information-sexual-assault-survivors.
The Facts About Sexual Assault and Harassment [Internet]. Canadian Women’s Foundation [date unknown]. Available from: https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/sexual-assault-harassment/.
Toronto Police Service. Reporting to the Police [Internet]. Ontario: Toronto Police Service [date unknown]. Available from: https://yourchoice.to/reporting.php.