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8 Things survivors of sexual assault should know about reporting

The Victoria Police Department recently published tweets about reporting sexual assault to the police, stating misleadingly that survivors should come to them before turning to news media or social media. In this CHEK News article, UVic law professor Michelle Lawrence clarifies that “police want to be able to memorialize a report in a way that’s attentive to the various details and aspects which complainants may not know is important. But for those who choose not to do that first, for those who have reasons to go to other places for support, they can still proceed.” 

Let’s be clear: if you have survived any kind of sexual assault, no one should be telling you what you can/cannot or should/should not post publicly about your experience. This includes the police. You know what is best for you and what you need to do to feel safe, process, and heal. 

It is, however, important to understand the potential impact of publicly shared information on a criminal investigation. Sharing your experiences online or through news media first might complicate the job of the police, and it might impact the ability to get a conviction. If your priority is to pursue charges and seek justice through the courts, it might be worth going to them first to ensure the strongest possible case. 

It’s worth noting that survivors turn to news media or social media for many reasons, including to receive support, to be believed, to ensure their personal safety, to connect with other survivors, to demand accountability, etc. These are all valid reasons, and important to the healing process for many. If going public first – or only going public – is what feels right, then that is a completely valid decision. It is up to you as a survivor to weigh your needs and objectives and decide what actions to take, and in what order. If you’d like support in navigating these choices, AVP is here to help.

In light of this public discussion on reporting, we wanted to write a piece all about reporting and the many considerations that come with it to help survivors make informed decisions for themselves. We also have a post on our website with advice for folks who are supporting survivors, which you can access here

1. Reporting and disclosure are not the same thing

A survivor can choose to disclose an assault (meaning tell someone about it), without wanting to report it to the police or other authorities. For many people, sharing an experience and receiving support are  integral parts of healing. This might look like telling a friend or family member, or seeking out support from a counsellor or a support line. A survivor has every right to take part in this process without reporting their assault to the police or other authorities. On the other hand, reporting can also be an important part of healing for some survivors. It all comes down to our next point.

2. Reporting is the survivor’s decision*

First and foremost, know that this is your decision. You decide when, if, and to whom you report the assault. If reporting would make you feel better, safer, empowered, and/or vindicated, then it might be something you choose to do.    

*We should note that there is a duty to report an assault disclosed to you if there are concerns of child protection or public safety. 

3. There are many valid reasons survivors choose not to report

While going to the police may be a good option for some, there are many valid reasons that some survivors choose not to report to the police: past experiences of violence from police, fear of not being believed, systemic and historic discrimination at the hands of police, fear of criminalization, not wanting to experience a trial, not wanting to criminalize the perpetrator, etc. Do what feels best for you. 

4. You can choose to report at any time

There is no statute of limitations in Canada for sexual assault. This means that you can take the time you need to make a decision about reporting. Reporting sooner could make the ability to investigate simpler or increase the chances of conviction. However, it is okay for a survivor to choose to prioritize the need to heal and process first. If you are considering reporting, but want to take more time to decide, we suggest you make a written account of everything you can remember from the assault for future reference. If you are considering reporting, you might also want to seek medical attention soon after the assault. In Victoria, a forensic exam is available at the Victoria Sexual Assault Clinic for within 72 hours of the assault. They will store the evidence for one year and only release it to police with signed consent of the survivor, meaning you can take time to make a decision about reporting. They also suggest survivors get medical care even if they are choosing not to report.  

5. You don’t have to do this alone

Most sexual assault centres have a victim support/services team, where you will be connected with a volunteer to help you navigate the police reporting and court system. They can help you understand what reporting entails, and if it’s something you would like to proceed with. If you choose to report, they can accompany you throughout the process. In Victoria, you can access these services at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre. VSAC also has a Sexual Assault Response Team that provides immediate support for survivors of all genders who have been sexually assaulted within the last 7 days. They offer emotional support and accompaniment for medical or police involvement, if requested by the survivor. 

6. The police are not the only ones you can report to

If you don’t want to report to the police, there might be other official avenues you can report through, depending on the context. If the assault happened at work or implicated co-workers, you can report to your workplace human resources manager or department head or union. If you are on a university campus, you may be able to report to campus security or through an equity and human rights office. For the options available at UVic specifically, we have more detailed resources here. These other options might work better for you depending on what outcome you are looking for; you might for example be looking to ensure you no longer have to work or study near the perpetrator without wanting to pursue criminal charges. 

7. You can report anonymously

There are options for reporting anonymously or reporting through a third party. A survivor might choose to do this out of concern for their safety, or if they want to alert the community about a safety risk without giving details of their own assault. This limits the ability of the police to investigate, but might be the best option for a survivor depending on their objectives. If you need support with this, reach out to us at AVP or to your local sexual assault centre. 

8. You are in control

Whatever choice you make is what’s right for you. And remember, you deserve healing and support, whatever you choose to do. 

If you would like support navigating this decision for yourself, please reach out to AVP at . You can also access more resources about reporting on our website here.

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