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Reporting Sexual Violence to Police: A Guide for Survivors

This resource provides information and answers some common questions about reporting sexual violence to the police.

Reporting sexual violence to the police can be intimidating and overwhelming. If you have more questions or would like some support during this process, you are encouraged to contact a Legal Support Navigator at The Journey Project. A Legal Support Navigator is a staff member who can provide emotional support and case management while you consider your legal options and throughout the legal process.

If and when you report to the police is your choice. The Journey Project will support you in any decision you make.

Things to know

  • If you are in an emergency situation, call 911.
  • You have options when reporting sexual violence. Reporting an experience of sexual violence is often called “making a complaint”. This is why you may hear police officers, lawyers or other legal professionals use the word “complainants” when talking about survivors.
  • You can make a complaint in person at a police station. You can also call your local police station to discuss the possibility of meeting a police officer in the community.
  • The process is usually similar at every police station. However, there may be some differences depending on where you live in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Depending on your location, you may need to report to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). RNC jurisdiction includes the Northeast Avalon region, Corner Brook, Labrador City and Churchill Falls. The RCMP are responsible for all other areas of the province.

What to expect when you report sexual violence to the police

In Canada, there is no limitation period, or time limit, on when a person can report an incident of sexual violence to the police, or when the police can charge someone with an indictable offence. You can report an assault(s) to the police no matter how long ago it happened.

If you are under age 18, reporting to the police may look different. Under the Child, Youth and Families Act, every person has a duty to report any abuse of children and youth.

For individuals aged 16 or 17, a social work assessment to determine the need for protective intervention is voluntary.

In most instances, when a youth reports sexual violence to the police, at some point throughout the criminal justice process the police may inform the parent(s), guardian(s), or other supportive adult the youth is aligned with.

If you call the police station or 911

  • A uniformed officer may be sent to your location. If you require medical assistance, the officer may offer to take you to the hospital. This is only done with your consent. The officer will take your information and details surrounding the assault for their report.
  • In most cases, you will be asked to make your formal statement at the police station. This may be on the same day or at another time. The statement will likely be taken by a different police officer.
  • Some places in the province have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program or specially trained nursing staff that you may be able to see.
  • A SANE is a healthcare professional who has advanced training and education in medical and forensic assessment of a person who has been sexually assaulted. A SANE aims to provide options and choices about medical care and/or police reporting, provide medications to prevent common infections and pregnancy, and connect patients with counselling services so they have appropriate support in moving forward if they choose to. You can also make a report to the police during this process. With your consent, the police can arrive at your location and take a statement from you.

If you report in person

  • You will likely walk up to a window at the police station and state what type of incident you are reporting. Depending on the layout of the police station and if other people are present, this conversation may not be private. You may be asked to show ID.
  • If you are reporting in person at the RNC in St. John’s, you can request to speak with someone in the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault (CASA) Unit. A CASA officer may or may not be available immediately.
  • Be prepared to wait in the main lobby. How long you wait will depend on whether there is a police officer available to take your statement.
    We suggest that you bring a support person with you or something to occupy your mind (e.g. your phone and charger, a book to read, a fidget object). You may be waiting for some time, up to several hours. Having water and tissues on hand is also a good idea.
  • When possible, we suggest calling the police station ahead of time to schedule an appointment.
  • The Journey Project can accompany you to the police station if requested. However, this may not be possible in every part of the province.

Living in a different province or country from where the assault happened

If you have experienced sexual violence in Newfoundland and Labrador but are now living in a different province or country, you can still report to the police in your area. They will likely be able to take your recorded statement and communicate this to the police detachment in Newfoundland and Labrador where the assault(s) occurred.

This process may look different depending on where you are located, so it is recommended to contact your local police detachment for further information and guidance.

Sexual Assault Evidence Kits

Getting Medical Attention

If you have experienced a recent sexual assault you might want to consider seeing a health care professional to address any medical concerns, injuries, or questions you may have. There are specially trained teams of nurses, called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, at St. Clare’s in St. John’s and Western Memorial In Corner Brook who have advanced training and education in medical and forensic assessment of a person who has been sexually assaulted.

You may want to consider having a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) done. A SAEK is used by health care professionals to collect forensic evidence after a sexual assault. If you are not in or near St. John’s or Corner Brook, you can visit your nearest emergency room. An RCMP officer may have to bring the SAEK to the hospital.

If you consent to a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, a healthcare professional may collect samples from anywhere on your body that the offender may have touched during the incident. Clothing and undergarments may be collected as evidence.

Some hospitals have the ability to store SAEKs on site, while others will send the SAEK to the nearest RNC or RCMP detachment for storage.

The RCMP can store SAEKs indefinitely. However, the RCMP must attach a name to the SAEK in order to create a file and store it. You aren’t required to provide a statement, but the SAEK belongs to the police.

In St. John’s, The RNC can store SAEKs indefinitely. Your kit is stored anonymously; a file number is attached to your kit, but no identifying information.

For evidence collection, it is recommended that you avoid

  • Showering or bathing.
  • Changing or throwing away your clothes.
  • Brushing your teeth.
  • Eating or drinking.
  • Washing your hands or combing your hair.
  • Disturbing the scene of the assault.

However, it is ok if you have done any these things – you did not do anything wrong. Many survivors often want to shower, change, and brush their teeth after an assault has occurred. This does not mean that an examination and evidence collection cannot take place.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program (SANE)

In St. John’s, the SANE program is located in St. Clare’s Hospital
Emergency Dept 1-709–777–5502
Program Office 1-709–777–5865 (available during office hours)

There are also SANE nurses located at Western Memorial Hospital in Corner Brook, NL.

Western Regional Memorial Hospital
1 Brookfield Avenue
Corner Brook, NL
A2H 6J7
Emergency Department: 709-784-5524

Initial Contact

When you first contact the police, there may be an initial interview. The initial interview is when a police officer asks for basic information about what happened. Police will ask for more information when you give a statement. A statement is a formal account of what happened. A statement can occur at the police station, or a mutually agreed upon location.

Before making your statement, mention any accessibility or accommodation requests you may have. This may include interpretation or translation services, transportation, having a support person with you, or a service animal. A Legal Support Navigator with The Journey Project can also assist you with arranging accommodations.

Giving Your Statement

The investigating officer will give you an opportunity to describe, in your own words, what happened, and why you are there. The police officer will likely ask you some specific questions to ensure they have as much information possible for their investigation.

Your statement may be videotaped and/or audiotaped for court purposes, as it may be entered as evidence. You may be allowed to bring along a support person with you. It is best to ask the officer ahead of time if this is possible. You may want to bring water and tissues with you. You can also take along any notes you have to help jog your memory.

The police officer will likely ask you difficult, personal, or invasive questions about what happened. At this point, you may have been asked to tell the same story with the same information multiple times. The purpose of this is to ensure the police gain a full understanding of the events.

You should answer all questions as completely and truthfully as you can. If you do not know or cannot remember the answer to a question, it is ok to tell the officer that. If you are making a guess at an answer, tell the officer that. It is best not to try to fill in blanks if you do not know the answer.

The police officer may ask you

  • The name, description of the suspect(s).
  • Details surrounding the event(s) (e.g. time, date, location).
  • About events prior to the assault(s).
  • What happened? You may be asked to give a very detailed description of the assault(s).
  • Whether or not you sustained any physical injuries.
  • If you got or tried to get medical treatment.
  • If there were any witnesses to the incident(s).

A witness is someone who the police think might have relevant information about a crime. The police may want to speak to them, and their statement may be used as evidence in court. They may have to appear in court to provide their testimony.

If you cannot remember all the details, that is ok. Trauma can impact memory and our ability to recount incidents in chronological order. If there are details you may have forgotten, or details that you remember after the interview, you can contact the investigator to follow up.

It is important to remember that the information provided during this statement may be used in court. If you would like to receive legal advice, the Journey Project Legal Support Service offers eligible participants up to four hours of free legal advice.

What to expect during a Police Investigation

Your information may be forwarded to an investigating team of police officers who deal with sexual assault. In St. John’s, the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault (CASA) Unit handles sexual assault matters. However, not every part of the province has a special unit. Under RCMP jurisdiction, your case will likely be sent to the Special Victims Unit. While the matter is under investigation, the police will interview witnesses and continue to collect evidence.

Police investigations can take time and every case is different. It may take weeks, months, or even years in some cases. If you have questions about an ongoing investigation, you can contact the investigating police officer(s) or Victim Services to find out information about your case.

The investigating police officer(s) can provide information on:

  • Your rights as a survivor.
  • How long things might take.
  • What the next steps might be.
  • If any charges will be laid after the investigation is completed.

People who may be involved in the investigation:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner
  • Child Abuse Sexual Assault Unit in St. John’s (RNC)
  • Special Victims Unit (RCMP)
  • Crown Attorney
  • Other medical professionals
  • Witnesses (if there are any)


During a police investigation, the investigating police officers may decide that a media release is required to protect the public. This is a rare occurrence. While your name will not be shared, details about the offender and the assault may be released. Under the Canadian Victim Bill of Rights, victims have a right to protect their identity. A publication ban is a court order that prevents anyone, including the media, from publishing or sharing information that could identify the victim. Publication bans are almost always used in matters with children, youth and other vulnerable people.

Generally, a media release may be issued if:

  • There is risk to public safety.
  • Information from the public may help the investigation.
  • It may encourage more victims/survivors to come forward.
  • An arrest has been made.

What happens if a charge is laid?

Laying charges (sometimes called “pressing charges”) is up to the investigating police officer(s). It is not up to you, however both the police and the Crown make every effort to act in the best interest of the survivor.

A charge is laid if the police have completed their investigation and have collected enough evidence to formally accuse a suspect(s) of committing a crime. The police will send the file to the Crown Attorney’s office. The Crown Attorney’s office will then take over and handle the prosecution of the accused.

What happens to the person(s) charged?

The person(s) charged (now “the accused”) will either be released back into the community or remain in custody (i.e. jail) until the case is finished.

If the accused is released back into the community, the court may place them on conditions (i.e. rules) they must follow. For example, the accused might be ordered not to have any contact with you or other people connected to the case.

An accused person can make an application to the court to vary (i.e. make changes) to their conditions. If this happens, you have the right to know about it.

If the person is released into the community, you have a couple of options. If you fear for your safety, you can apply for a Peace Bond. This is a court order that places specified conditions on an individual’s behaviour. An Emergency Protection Order is a document issued by the Provincial Court that a judge may grant quickly when intimate partner violence has occurred. Your safety is the number one priority. To talk about safety planning, contact The Journey Project, a transition house, safe house, or the police.

What happens if a charge is not laid?

If a charge is not laid, it is because the police were not able to collect enough evidence to proceed. It does not mean the sexual assault did not happen or that the investigating police officers did not believe you. This can feel incredibly defeating and for many people it can be re-traumatizing.

The investigating officer can explain why a charge was not laid and connect you with other legal options. The Journey Project staff are also available at any time during this process to provide legal information, emotional support, or a referral to a lawyer for free legal advice.

If a charge is not laid, the survivor may be able to apply for a Peace Bond or an Emergency Protection order if they fear for their safety.

Other supports

Victim Services is a voluntary, free, and confidential program that supports victims of crime throughout the criminal justice process.

Victims Services provides

  • General information about the criminal justice system.
  • Information on your specific case.
  • Safety planning.
  • Court preparation.
  • Assistance writing your victim impact statement.
  • Referrals to other community organizations and agencies.
  • Emotional support and short-term counselling as you prepare to go to court.

Victims Services Coordinators do not provide legal advice. When you call Victim Services to request information about your case, you will likely need to provide your police file number. If you do not have one, or do not know it, they may ask you for some identifying information, like the name of the offender(s).

Victim Services

There are several victim services locations across the province, click the link below to find the location nearest you.

Common Questions

For many valid reasons, sometimes survivors do not want to continue with a sexual assault investigation. If the investigation is still ongoing, the police will almost always respect your decision. However, if the court process has already begun, it is up to the Crown to decide.

The police handling your case should notify you when they plan on interviewing the perpetrator. It is your right to know information about the case.

To lay a criminal charge, the police have to collect enough evidence to meet a certain threshold. It does not mean that they don’t believe you. In some situations, the police consult with Crown prosecutors to discuss the case and obtain their professional opinion on recommending charges.

You can make a complaint about an officer’s conduct by contacting the local police station where they work. You can make a complaint directly to the officer’s supervisor.

You can also make a complaint to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Public Complaints Commission or the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission of the RCMP, depending on the jurisdiction your matter falls under.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Public Complaints Commission (RNCPCC) provides members of the public with an independent forum for their complaints against Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers. Complaints must be made within 6 months of the incident.
For more information, visit:

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC) reviews complaints about on-duty conduct of RCMP members. Complaints must be made within one year of the incident.

For more information, visit:

The Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT NL) is mandated to conduct investigations into police-related incidents like domestic violence and sexual offences. If either an RNC officer or RCMP officer has committed a sexual offence, like sexual assault, you can report it to SIRT NL. This includes offences that happened while the officer was off-duty. There is no time limit to reporting.

For more information, visit

Related Definitions

Below are some relevant terms lawyers use. If you do not understand something the lawyer is saying, ask them to explain it differently. You can also reach out to The Journey Project for help.

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A person charged with committing a criminal offence.
An unproven accusation. This includes a criminal charge that has not yet been proved in court. Lawyers and the courts use this term because accused people have the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court. Use of this word does not mean that the lawyer does not believe you.
The term often used by police or the courts to refer to a person who has made a complaint about a criminal incident to police. The complaint may or may not lead to criminal charges against an accused person.
A voluntary agreement, given willingly, to a specific sexual act, at a specific time. The person giving consent fully understands what is happening, is old enough to consent, and is mentally capable of giving consent. The law requires that a person take reasonable steps to find out whether the other person is consenting. The age of consent to sexual activity in Canada is 16. In some situations, a person must be 18 years old to consent to sexual activity (if the other person has a relationship of trust or authority over them, if it involves exploitative activity, if they are dependent on the other person, etc.).
When the government believes a person has committed a crime, it brings the person to Criminal Court for trial. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Criminal Court may be either at the Provincial Court or the Supreme Court, General Division.
A Crown Attorney, sometimes called a prosecutor, is a lawyer that works for the Government. They represent the best interest of the public and are responsible for making sure that the criminal justice process is fair to everyone involved, including the accused, the complainant and the public. They do not represent or work for the survivor in a criminal matter. A survivor does not get their own lawyer. A survivor can hire a lawyer for support and guidance, but they cannot represent you at most court hearings.
A copy of the evidence that the Crown and police have collected. This package of evidence is given to the accused and their lawyer so that they can see the full evidence being presented against them.
An emergency document issued by Provincial Court that a judge can grant quickly when family violence has occurred. Commonly referred to as an EPO, this order is temporary, with a maximum duration of 90 days. An EPO can place restrictions on the respondent (person you are requiring protection from).
Defined in the Family Violence Protection Act and includes the following behaviours:
  • Intentional physical assault causing the worker to fear for their safety
  • An intentional, reckless, or threatened act or omission that causes damage to the worker or to property or reasonable causes fear of same
  • Forcible confinement without lawful reason
  • Actual or threatened sexual violence
  • Stalking behaviour (following, contacting, observing, etc.) causing fear in the worker
  • Behaviour that causes psychological or emotional harm or a reasonable fear of that harm, including a pattern of behaviour that undermines the psychological or emotional well-being of a worker
  • Behaviour that controls, exploits, or limits the worker’s access to financial resources
  • The deprivation of food, clothing, medical attention, shelter, transportation, or other necessities of life.
Stalking, following, or doing certain other things that frighten or intimidate a person and make them fear for their safety. Sexual harassment can include any unwanted conduct, behaviour, action, or words of a sexual nature.
A photo, video, or recording of a person who is nude, semi-nude, or engaged in sexual activity.
Intimate partner violence is a prevalent form of gender-based violence (GBV). It refers to multiple forms of harm caused by a current or former intimate partner or spouse. IPV can occur in real life (IRL) or online public and private spaces, and may include physical abuse, criminal harassment (i.e., stalking), sexual violence, emotional/psychological abuse, financial/economic abuse, spiritual/cultural abuse, reproductive coercion, coercive control, and technology-facilitated violence (i.e., cyberviolence).
A time period set by law that states how long a person has to start a legal action or exercise a legal right. Except in rare circumstances, if the limitation period has ended, the person will no longer have the right to start a legal action or bring a case to the courts. Depending on the nature of the case, there may be a limit on when a civil lawsuit can be started.
A common name for the application for ‘disclosure of third-party records.’
A court order that places specified conditions on an individual’s behaviour. Anyone who fears for their safety can make an application.
Bodily fluids and other DNA-producing evidence which may be used to prove the identity of the accused. Physical evidence may be used to prove a sexual act took place. The purpose of the physical evidence will depend upon the issue of trial.
A SANE is a health care professional who has advanced training and education in medical and forensic assessment of a person who has been sexually assaulted. A SANE aims to provide options and choices about medical care and/or police reporting, provide medications to prevent infection and pregnancy, and connect patients with counselling services so they have appropriate support in moving forward if they choose to.
A non-legal term that is used to describe any violence, including physical or psychological violence, that is carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality. Each survivor will interpret sexual violence differently based on their own personal and unique experience. It includes any act that happens without consent of a person, including physical or psychological violence, carried out through sexual means, of a sexual nature, or by targeting sexuality.
An account of the events that occurred. It may be provided in writing, audio or video recording. It may be used as evidence in court.
The term survivor and victim are both often used when talking about sexual violence and/or intimate partner violence. You may or may not identify with this term, depending on the impact of your experience and where you are in your healing process.
The use of this evidence is rare but becoming more common. There have been cases built on video taken by the accused.
A person who saw a crime or was a victim of a crime.