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Reporting to the 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 welcome and 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 survivors are often referred to as complainants.
  • 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 generally 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).

What to expect when you report sexual violence to the police

In Canada, there is no limitation period 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.

Reporting to the police is your choice. It is completely up to you if and/or when you report to the police. However, once you make a report to the police, they will determine much of the process and decision-making that follows.

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.

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, privacy may not be guaranteed.
  • 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.
  • 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). You may be waiting for some time, up to several hours. Having water and tissues on hand is also a good idea.
  • The Journey Project can accompany you to the police station if requested. However, this may not be possible in every part of the province.

Giving your statement

  • The police officer may request that you write down your statement, or they might write it for you. If the officer writes your statement, you will have the opportunity to review and sign it.
  • Prior to making your statement, mention any accessibility or accommodation requests you may have. A Legal Support Navigator with The Journey Project can also assist you with arranging accommodations. Some examples of accommodations include a service animal, translation or interpretation, or transportation.

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 sought medical treatment.
  • If there were any witnesses to the incident(s).

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, our Sexual Violence Legal Support Service offers eligible participants up to four hours of free legal advice.

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.

For evidence collection, it is recommended that you avoid

  • Showering or bathing.
  • Changing or throwing away your clothes.
  • Brushing your teeth.
  • 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.easternhealth.ca/programs/sane/
Emergency Dept 1-709–777–5502
Program Office 1-709–777–5865

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

Victims Services

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 does 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.
gov.nl.ca/victimservices/

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

If the police have collected enough evidence, your information may be forwarded to an investigating team of police officers who primarily 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. 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 Victim Services to find out information about your case.

What to expect during a Police Investigation

If the police have collected enough evidence, your information may be forwarded to an investigating team of police officers who primarily 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. 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 Victim Services to find out information about your case.

The investigating police 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.

Other people who may be involved in the investigation:

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

Privacy

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. 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.

The police officer may ask you:

During a police investigation, you may be asked to give a recorded interview.

  • The interview may be videotaped and/or audiotaped for court purposes, as it may be entered as evidence.
  • You will be brought to a room with the investigating officer who is responsible for handling your file. What the room looks like will depend on the police station you are reporting in. It may have comfortable furniture or office chairs. The room will likely have very little art on the wall or anything else that might be distracting. The room may or may not have a window. You can call ahead and request a description of the room to help prepare you.
  • 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 made 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. It is important to remember that the information provided during this statement may be used in court.

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. 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 a 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.

Related Definitions
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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).
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.
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. 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.
Someone who has relevant information about a crime. Their statement may be used as evidence in court, they may have to appear in court to provide testimony.