After a sexual assault, it can be confusing or scary to choose whether to file a police report. Some survivors want to report their sexual assault so that they can feel safer or protect other people. Some survivors don’t want to talk to the police and want to move on. There is no right way to react to a sexual assault.
Reporting a sexual assault
You can choose whether to file a police report after a sexual assault. Filing a police report does not mean that you will have to go to court. At this stage, you can choose whether to press charges or end the process.
If you file a report, police will ask very detailed questions. After you file a report, they’ll write down the name of the detective and the police report number. You can keep these safe in case you want to follow up.
The detective will transfer the case to a prosecutor. The prosecutor decides whether to charge the suspect. This can take several days, weeks, or months. If they do, you’ll get a letter with the charges.
If you want to stop the process, you need to decide before the prosecutor makes their decision. The case will continue as a criminal case if the accused is charged. But in most cases, if the survivor does not want to take part as a witness, the case stops.
Choosing whether to press charges
Once you’ve filed a police report, you can continue to press charges or drop the case. Some survivors want to press charges and some don’t. Survivors have many different reasons for making this choice. Any of these reasons are okay. You know what’s best for yourself.
For some survivors, pressing charges can make them feel in control. Some want to stop the person who hurt them from hurting more people.
For other survivors, pressing charges can make them feel ashamed. They might not want people to know about their assault. Some are afraid that the person who assaulted them might try to get back at them for reporting it. Or they worry that people won’t believe them.
Talking about a sexual assault during a trial can be difficult and may bring up a lot of emotions. Survivors don’t have to press charges if they don’t want to. They can also wait until they’re ready to press charges. It can help to talk through this choice with someone you trust or with experts who know how a trial works.
Some places that can give information about pressing charges and can help survivors go to trial are:
- Sexual Assault Centres (CALACS)
- Montreal Sexual Assault Centre
- Quebec Free or Low-Cost Legal Resources Directory
Help during a trial
If a survivor decides to press charges, the government gives information about:
- the case
- the process
- their rights
- where they can get support
The government also offers ways to help survivors feel safer about going to trial, such as:
- Making sure the survivor’s name is not published or broadcast
- Ways for survivors to talk to the court without seeing the accused
- Letting survivors who are under 18 tape their testimony instead of speaking at the trial
- Letting survivors bring someone they trust to court
- Making sure the accused can’t talk to the survivor
Criminal and civil processes
If you press charges, you can choose between a criminal or civil case. In a criminal case, the government takes the accused to court. In a civil case, the survivor takes the accused to court.
A survivor can also take the accused to court in both a criminal case and a civil case for the same assault. Some people do this because it is usually easier to charge someone in a civil case than in a criminal case. If a judge finds the accused not guilty in a criminal case, the accused can still be guilty in a civil case.
There are many differences between criminal and civil cases. These are some of the differences that people think about when they decide which kind of case they want:
- There’s a time limit for when you can take some legal actions. There is no time limit for criminal cases of sexual assault. The time limit for civil cases of sexual assault is 30 years.
- It is usually easier to charge someone in a civil case.
- In a civil case, the survivor might have to share more personal details about the assault.
- A civil case can be more expensive than a criminal case.
- If the accused is charged in a civil case, they might include conditions that many survivors think are unfair. The accused has to pay the survivor. This is known as a settlement. A settlement can often include a gag order. This means that the survivor cannot talk about the case. A settlement can also include a condition saying that the accused does not have to admit guilt.