Frequently asked questions
If the sexual assault recently occurred, is in progress, or you are in need of immediate medical/policing assistance, please call 9-1-1.
Table of contents
- How do I know if I have been sexually assaulted?
- Is there online reporting for sexual assault to the RCMP?
- How else can I report a sexual assault for myself or for someone else?
- What if the sexual assault occurred in another province but I am a resident of Alberta? Who do I report it to?
- What happens after I report a sexual assault?
- What if the sexual assault happened a long time ago? Can I still report it?
- What if I never had a forensic medical exam after a sexual assault? Can I still report the assault?
- How is DNA evidence used?
- If I make a report to the police, do I have to proceed with an investigation or do I have time to decide?
- If I previously reported a sexual assault but didn't proceed with an investigation, can I proceed with a police investigation later?
- What is a typical police 'investigative process'?
- If I make a report, will the police lay charges?
- How will the police determine if charges can be laid?
- The police laid charges but the prosecutor withdrew them, why?
- Someone I know is a survivor of sexual assault. How can I support or help them?
How do I know if I have been sexually assaulted?
Sexual assault is any sexual contact where consent is not given, consent is revoked, or you are unable to consent due to incapacitation.
Sexual assault is a criminal offence by which one person violates another by way of unwanted sexual activity (i.e. touching, kissing and/or penetration).
There are different labels in society that make up sexual assaults, for example, rape, sexual abuse, violation, harassment. It may difficult for you to put a label on what happened to you, and that is okay. It is not your responsibility to know what crimes were committed against you (that is for the police and prosecution to figure out if you decide to report). Sexual assault is never your fault; the person who commits the crime is responsible for their actions.
More information on sexual assault and consent.
Is there online reporting for sexual assault to the RCMP?
Currently the RCMP is working with partner agencies to research and develop a victim-centered online reporting tool.
How else can I report a sexual assault for myself or for someone else?
If you are in immediate danger or need help NOW, call 9-1-1.
You may be able to report the assault through a Community-Based Victim Services (CBVS) agency such as a local sexual assault centre. An advocate from your nearest centre or through Alberta One-Line for Sexual Violence will be able to help you understand what reporting options are available to you within your area.
Participating Alberta Health Services locations offer support through a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) who can call the police on your behalf.
Similarly, you can attend or call your nearest police detachment to receive an immediate police response.
What if the sexual assault occurred in another province but I am a resident of Alberta? Who do I report it to?
The supports offered through your nearest sexual assault centre and Alberta One-Line are available for any Albertan whom experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime; regardless of location.
Should you wish to make a formal police report, you can attend your nearest detachment to provide the information of your assault. The police will collect the necessary information and forward to the local police who has jurisdiction over the location where the assault occurred. That police agency will be responsible for completing the investigation.
Again, you can still receive local support regardless of where the assault occurred or when.
What happens after I report a sexual assault?
The police will generate a file number and begin an investigation; depending on your wishes for a complete investigation or to report for information purposes only.
What if the sexual assault happened a long time ago? Can I still report it?
The RCMP encourages all survivors of sexual violence to report the event to the police regardless of when the assault occurred.
There is no statute of limitations for sexual assaults in Canada. This means that it does not matter when the assault occurred, the police will open a file and complete a thorough investigation based upon the evidence available. While "historic" cases often present some difficulties (for example, loss of potential forensic evidence) it is not impossible to have the accused charged and convicted.
Furthermore, the police may be able to link a sexual assault to others if the suspect is a repeat offender. Any information could be valuable to other investigations, so it is always encouraged that survivors report crimes when they feel ready and able to do so.
What if I never had a forensic medical exam after a sexual assault? Can I still report the assault?
YES. The RCMP encourages all survivors of sexual violence to report the event to the police regardless of when the assault occurred. There is no statute of limitations for sexual assaults in Canada.
A forensic medical exam is only one part of evidence that can be used to prosecute a sexual assault case.
How is DNA evidence used?
DNA is a reliable form of evidence in many criminal cases. DNA can be collected from bodily substances such as blood, saliva and semen as well as hair, skin and tissue cells. It can even be used to solve old crimes that occurred prior to the development of DNA testing technology.
Police can send collected DNA evidence to a forensic lab for analysis. If a DNA profile is obtained from a collection (i.e. pubic hair) it is queried through the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB). The NDDB allow DNA profiles developed from biological samples and other items collected and submitted by police, coroners and medical examiners to be compared to other DNA profiles in the NDDB.
When a match is made between DNA profiles found at separate crime scenes, it can help link crimes for which no suspects have been identified. This determines whether a serial offender is involved in a number of cases. A match can also assist in identifying known previous convicted offenders when ran through an offender databank.
If I make a report to the police, do I have to proceed with an investigation or do I have time to decide?
A person may decide they are not ready to proceed with an investigation after providing the initial report and request no further investigative action to be completed. This would result in a partial investigation being completed. At any time, you can request the investigation to re-open and continue.
If I previously reported a sexual assault but didn't proceed with an investigation, can I proceed with a police investigation later?
Yes. Even if you have previously requested an investigation to cease you can request that it be re-opened. A delay in the investigation could result in key evidence being lost, however the police will continue with the information available to them at the time the investigation is re-opened.
What is a typical police 'investigative process'?
In order to conduct a comprehensive and thorough investigation police need to exhaust all possible investigative avenues to gather evidence to support the laying of criminal charges. This can include:
- A statement from the complainant and survivor (if separate people)
- Statements from all possible witnesses, including person's whom the survivor disclosed the incident to prior to reporting to the police
- Scene examination
- Collection and forensic testing of the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit
- Gathering of other physical evidence (such as copies of electronic communication exchanges, video/security footage, clothing worn at the time/after the offence by both the survivor and the suspect, penile swab of the suspect, etc.)
- Obtaining a statement from the suspect
Every investigation is unique and may require a variety of investigative actions depending on the circumstances presented.
If I make a report, will the police lay charges?
The police review, and take very seriously, every report of sexual assault.
Whether the police lay charges or not depends on the information available to them. In some cases, a person may wish to make a report to the police but do not wish for any investigative action to be completed. This is called an Information Only report and will not result in any person(s) being charged.
A person may decide they are not ready to proceed with an investigation after providing the initial report and request no further investigative action to be completed. This would result in a partial investigation being completed.
If a survivor is seeking an outcome of a charge being laid, the police will need to conduct a complete investigation which may require the interviewing of potential witnesses, examining forensic evidence (if available) and interviewing the suspect.
Regardless which method of investigation occurs; a survivor will always have a say in whether or not to proceed. If an individual makes the informed choice to stop an investigation, at any future time they can request the file to be re-opened.
Note: There may be certain circumstances where the police are obligated to proceed with an investigation once a report has been made. Speak with your local police or victim advocate to inquire further about options available to you.
If charges are not laid, it does not mean the police do not believe you nor does it mean that the sexual assault did not occur.
How will the police determine if charges can be laid?
As with any investigation, the police are not always able to lay criminal charges. This could be for a variety of reasons, but it does not mean a report is not credible nor is it any statement or judgment about the occurrence of the sexual assault. In these cases, the police may not have been able to gather enough evidence to support the legal requirements for laying a criminal charge.
In some circumstances, the police may need to consult with prosecutors to determine if charges should be laid. If this occurs, the prosecutor will receive a copy of the investigation and after reviewing the case details will determine if the investigation should proceed with charges.
When no charges are laid, it may mean there isn't enough evidence to prove a criminal charge in court or the prosecutor determines there is no likelihood of a successful conviction. If this happens, the police officer will explain the decision to you.
Regardless of whether charges are laid or not, support will still be made available to any survivor from Victim Services.
The police laid charges but the prosecutor withdrew them, why?
The responsibility of the police is to conduct an investigation and gather evidence to determine if there are reasonable grounds to support the laying of the criminal charges. Whereas, a prosecutor needs to determine if the investigation and evidence collected will result in the likely conviction of the accused. Both are very different thresholds to meet within the Criminal Justice System. While the police's evidence may show that the crime is reasonably believed to have occurred as reported, the prosecutor needs to prove that it occurred without any doubt.
Someone I know is a survivor of sexual assault. How can I support or help them?
First and foremost, BELIEVE THEM. Second, listen to them.
It is important to understand that everyone will experience trauma differently. There is no correct way to respond or behave following a traumatic incident especially a sexual assault. A survivor's behavior is no way any indication of how "bad" the sexual assault was, or whether it occurred. Sexual assaults and sexual violence are crimes of power and control.
Helping the survivor by offering support and not engaging in "victim-blaming" or "victim-shaming" statements are crucial. Instead, reach out to your nearest community-based sexual assault centre or police-based victim services unit to learn what support and services may be available in your area. Respect the survivor's wishes about whether or not they will engage with the police. If a survivor is willing to report, offer to accompany them to the sexual assault centre or police detachment, or both.
If the survivor is a child or minor, there may be a requirement to file a report to the police or Children Services. The Alberta Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act outlines matters to be considered when a child is in need of intervention.
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