Options for Survivors of Sexual Assault
For many people, the time immediately after experiencing a sexual assault can be very confusing. It can be difficult to know what to do and where to turn. The following information may be of help when considering the options that are available. It is important to recognize that some people will not choose any of the options provided below. Doing nothing is also an option. Since every person’s experience and recovery process is unique, only you know what is right for you.
Consider Telling Someone You Trust. Consider talking to someone whom you feel would be a safe person to talk to - perhaps a friend, family member or teacher. Although it is not often easy to talk about the experience, especially when disclosing for the first time, talking to a trusted friend or other support person may lessen feelings of isolation and provide some emotional comfort. Remember, you are not to blame for what was done to you. Your local Sexual Assault Centre can offer confidential, empathetic support and the information you need to be able to make the decisions that are right for you. The Edmonton area has three Sexual Assault Centres to chose from: The University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, and SAFFRON Centre Ltd.
Consider Seeking Medical Attention. If the sexual assault experience was recent and you concerned about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pregnancy or possible injuries, it is important to consider seeking medical attention. Although a physical exam after a sexual assault can be very difficult, there are services in Edmonton such as SART, the STD Clinic and OPTIONS Sexual Health Association that make the process less difficult.
- SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) is a team of nurses who examine and treat survivors of sexual assault who seek medical attention through local hospital emergency rooms. This is a no-fee, confidential service available to anyone who has been sexually assaulted within the past 7 days. If survivors contact SART within 72 hours of the sexual assault, the nurses can collect medical evidence for police if the survivor wishes to report now or wishes to consider it later. Medical evidence is not necessary for reporting. SART is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the Emergency Department of the Royal Alexandra, University of Alberta, Misercordia, Grey Nuns, Sturgeon and Leduc hospitals along with the North East Community Health Centre. Survivors whose assault happened more than 7 days ago who are concerned about STI’s or pregnancy may want to consider the STD Center or OPTIONS Sexual Health Association.
- STD Center. For those concerned about sexually transmitted infections, the STD Center in Edmonton provides free, confidential and anonymous testing and treatment (no health care card required). The clinic is located at 11111 Jasper Avenue and is open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 5:00pm. Anyone can drop by, or make an appointment by phoning 780-413-5156.
- OPTIONS Sexual Health Association. If pregnancy is a concern, OPTIONS provides free, confidential pregnancy testing as well as non-judgmental information, counselling and referrals. OPTIONS is located at #50 9912-106 Street. Call 780-423-3737.
- Local Police Department. Consider reporting the incident to the police by calling or going to the nearest police station to file a complaint. After reporting to the police, should they decide to press charges, you can chose to act as a witness or decide not to act as a witness. Some people find it helpful to report in that it allows for the collection of accurate information should they decide to follow through the a complaint at a some point in the future. As there is no statute of limitations on reporting, non-recent assaults can also be reported to local police departments. For further information on the reporting process, contact your local Sexual Assault Centre.
- University of Alberta Protective Services (formerly Campus Security Services). If the incident happened on the University of Alberta campus including in any campus residence or at a campus affiliated event, involving U of A Protective Services is another reporting option. They can be reached by calling 780-492-5050 or by visiting them in the south, west corner of the U of A Education Car Park at 11390 – 87 Avenue, Edmonton. The U of A Sexual Assault Centre can provide further information or accompaniment services for those reporting to U of A Protective Services.
- Third Party Reporting. Another reporting option to consider is Third Party Reporting. Third party reporting allows you to provide police with information regarding your sexual assault experience, anonymously, and without a criminal investigation. For more infromation on Third Party Reporting contact the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton or the U of A Sexual Assault Centre.
Take the Time to Recover. The process of recovery from a sexual assault takes time, and is different for each individual. Talking with a counsellor who is non-judgmental and knowledgeable about the issue of sexual assault can be helpful as individuals make sense of their experience and move through the healing process.
Reporting a Sexual Assault to the Police (Edmonton Area)
When deciding whether or not to report a sexual assault to the police, it is important to know what will be involved in the process so you can make the decision that is best for you.
This pamphlet is intended as a guide for what happens when you report a sexual assault to the police in the Edmonton area. However, there is no set protocol that the police have to follow, and therefore some of the steps taken may be different from what you will read in this guide.
It is important to remember that the role of the police is to conduct an impartial investigation. When an assault has been reported to the police, officers are responsible for gathering, evaluating, and processing information or evidence. They must critically evaluate whether the evidence supports prosecuting the case regardless of their personal feelings, and even then, they often rely on the Crown Prosecutor to concur that there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction before proceeding with laying charges.
Part of being an impartial investigator is that the police officer may refer to you as the “victim”, as this is the term used to refer to anyone who has had a crime committed against them.
Three General Ways to Report:
1) Phoning the police
To report a sexual assault, you can call the Police Non-Emergency line: 423-4567 (for immediate emergency help, call 911). When you call you will reach a dispatch officer, who will send officers to where you are. Uniformed officers will arrive, and depending on how recent the assault was, the police may offer to take you to the hospital to receive medical attention and to have any evidence of the sexual assault on your body documented. You can also choose to meet the police at the hospital. Whether or not you go to the hospital is up to you. If you do go to the hospital, the case will usually be taken over by a Detective with the Sexual Assault Section who will meet you at the hospital in plain clothes, not a uniform.
The officer will start a report in which she/he gets information from you about yourself and the occurrence. In writing this report, the officer may ask you several things, including the name, address, and physical description of the suspect if you know the person. You will also be asked to write out what happened. (This is called a witness statement).
You will be given a copy of your witness statement and your file number. Please be sure to keep your file number, as it is important when trying to get information about your case later on.
Once the officer has completed his/her report, and if there is no imminent safety risk to you, the officer will leave. The officer will contact you anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks later to tell you if the case will be investigated further and/or if charges will be laid. In some cases you may have to do a second interview, or look at a photo line-up. If the police do lay charges, the case continues on to the crown prosecutors’ office, and then to court.
2) Going to the hospital
You can also report a sexual assault to the police by going to a hospital to get examined. The first step is going to an emergency department of a hospital and telling the triage nurse at the desk that you have been sexually assaulted and/or you would like to see a SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) nurse. SART is a team of female Registered Nurses who have been trained specifically to care for people who have been sexually assaulted within the past 7 days. SART nurses are available 24 hours a day, and usually arrive within an hour of being called.
By asking for a SART nurse, you are not automatically reporting the assault to the police. The SART nurse will ask you if you want to report to the police. If you do not want to report, the SART nurse will do a physical and genital exam to assess any injuries that may have occurred from the assault. She will also talk with you and help to determine your risk for sexually transmitted infections, and if you are female, for pregnancy. If these issues are a concern, the nurse will discuss treatment options such as emergency contraception and medicines to combat sexually transmitted infections. She will also give you information about follow-up medical care.
If you do decide to report, the nurse will call the police for you, and a Detective with the Sexual Assault Section will come to the hospital in plain clothes to speak with you. Once the Detective arrives, he/she will ask you what happened; if you are not up to giving a full verbal statement at this time, the officer will usually wait until the next day. He/she may also give you witness statement forms and ask you to complete a written statement at home. At this point you can also choose whether or not to have a sexual assault kit (or rape kit as it is sometimes referred to) completed by a doctor and nurse. The sexual assault kit may be done up to 72 hours following a sexual assault. The sexual assault kit is used to gather medical-legal evidence for court purposes, and the SART nurse can explain the specifics of the kit to you during the examination. If you decide not to get the sexual assault kit done, the SART nurse will examine you as discussed above. After you have been examined, the Detective will usually give you her/his card and make arrangements to speak with you again about the assault.
3) Going to a police station
The third route for reporting a sexual assault is to go into a police station or community station and report it to the officer at the desk. The procedure in this case can vary greatly, because each station is different.
When you come into a police station to report, you will write a witness statement and the officer will start a report, just as if you had phoned the police. However, you may be asked to write your witness statement sitting at a table in the waiting room, standing at the counter, or in a private room, depending on the station. You may also have to wait for another officer to come back to the station to do the report, if the desk officer is the only one there.
After starting your report and writing your witness statement, you will get a copy of your statement and file number and you can go home. Please be sure to keep your file number, as it is important when trying to get information about your case later on. It will be up to the investigating officer as to whether or not he/she will investigate the case, or if the file will be forwarded to the Sexual Assault Section. After the investigation is completed it is up to the police and the crown prosecutors’ office as to whether or not charges will be laid, and once a decision has been made, the officer will contact you.
The Police Interview and Investigation
If the police are going to continue with an investigation, a Detective from the Sexual Assault Section of the Edmonton Police should call you within approximately two weeks to schedule an interview with you. You will make an appointment with the Detective to meet at Police Headquarters (9620-103A Avenue), which is where the Sexual Assault Section is located.
When you enter Police Headquarters, you will be in a large open waiting room (foyer) where anyone can go to report crimes of all kinds, not just sexual assaults. There will be an officer at a desk behind glass, and you can tell this officer that you are there for an appointment with “Detective ____”. You will be asked to sign in, and the officer will give you a visitor sticker to wear. You will then sit and wait for the Detective to come down and get you. You will need to be escorted through the station, as there is a security door to pass through. The Detective will take you to an elevator to the third floor where the Sexual Assault Section and the interview rooms are located.
The interview rooms have a small couch and chair, and only you and the Detective can be present in the room. The Detective will inform you that the interview is being videotaped. An interview can take anywhere from half an hour to six hours, but they are usually only about one to two hours long. In the interview you will be asked to tell the Detective everything you remember about the assault, and you will be asked to be very detailed and specific, even about parts of the sexual assault that make you uncomfortable. Being as honest and detailed as possible will be the most helpful.
After the interview, the Detective will continue with her/his investigation, including contacting the suspect. Some Detectives will let you know when they have contacted the suspect, while others will not. If knowing when the suspect will be contacted is important to you, be sure to ask the Detective to contact you after he/she has contacted the suspect. As the investigation progresses, the Detective will be in contact with you about the investigation and whether or not any charges will be laid. In some cases you may have to do a second interview, or look at a photo line-up. If the police do lay charges, the case continues on to the Crown Prosecutor’s office, and then to court.
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Regardless of how you choose to report, if the police decide not to press charges, it does not mean that they do not believe you. The police may have a number of reasons for not being able to pursue your case, such as not having enough physical evidence to prove the charges in court. The criterion for criminal prosecutions is quite stringent. Accordingly, despite a full and truthful disclosure by you, if the required evidence does not meet the standard set forth by the courts, your complaint may not result in charges.
If the police do not lay charges, you can contact the crown prosecutors’ office to lay charges yourself, although laying the charges yourself is generally more difficult than having the police do it. You may still be told the case will not proceed to court. If the police do lay charges, the case continues on to the crown prosecutors’ office, and then to court.
In all of these scenarios, the police utilize an extensive referral network and will provide a referral whenever possible to assist you during and after the investigation. One of the possible referrals is Victim Services, who will most likely contact you after filing your initial complaint. Victim Services is a police-based unit that offers follow-up support for victims of crime and can provide referrals, debriefings, and support while working with the police system. You can choose whether or not you would like to work with Victim Services.
If you decide you do not want to go through the court and legal process, you can still file a report with the police. If you tell the police you do not want to pursue charges at this time, there will be a record of the sexual assault in case you wish to pursue it at a later date.
In the end, the decision about whether or not to report the sexual assault to the police is up to you. The legal process can take up to two years from the initial report to the police to the court date, and delays by defense lawyers are common. You will be the one going through the process, and therefore your well-being and comfort with the process are vital.