Sexual Assault Survivor Guide

Dear Survivor,

We recognize that this is a very difficult time for you.  It is important to know that the Ottawa Police Service is here to help.  This guide has been created to help understand the legal processes that are associated with sexual assault and to offer a wide range of resources to support you throughout this difficult time.

It is our duty to conduct a professional and thorough investigation.  The Ottawa Police Service is here to assist and support survivors of sexual assault in a sensitive manner. Our goal is to identify, arrest and prosecute the person(s) responsible and to prevent further crimes from happening.

The Ottawa Police Service is committed to protect the safety, security and quality of life in Ottawa.

Sexual assault is never your fault.

It does not matter what situation you were in, or who you were with or where you were. Sexual assault is the fault of the person who commits the crime.

A sexual assault is any unwanted sexual activity. It includes unwanted touching, kissing, hugging, molestation, or penetration.  It can happen to someone once, more than once, or even over the course of many years. If the sexual assault occurred years ago, the memories may be suppressed and you won't remember what happened until there is a trigger.

Sexual assault can happen to women, girls, boys, men, and transgendered people of all ages, races and cultural backgrounds.  A person can be sexually assaulted by a stranger, their partner, dates, co-workers, acquaintances or family members. Individuals in authoritative positions and professionals can also commit sexual assault.  Sexual assault is a criminal act, regardless of the relationship between the survivor and the offender.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common feelings I might expect during this time?

There is no right or wrong way to feel or react to sexual assault.  A victim of sexual assault may experience a wide range of emotions. You may become very emotional, angry, tearful and anxious or the opposite very cool, calm and collected. You may even return to your previous routine feeling very much in control.  Your initial emotions may change at anytime to feelings of anxiousness and/or depression. Physical reactions may include having difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. Thoughts of the sexual assault may start to interfere with your daily life. You may feel that you are re-experiencing the sexual assault and find it difficult to cope with work or school as it becomes harder to concentrate. You may feel especially anxious when you see or hear anything that reminds you of the sexual assault. All of these feelings are common after a traumatic event.

Sometimes these feelings gradually fade but often there is a need for additional support.

What will happen after I report the sexual assault?

The Ottawa Police Service's Victim Support Unit (VSU) will contact you to identify needs and ensure that supports and resources are in place for you. In most cases the first responding officer, usually a patrol officer, will take brief details about the sexual assault in order to complete an initial report. An investigator who is trained in the investigations of sexual assaults will be in contact with you to arrange for a more detailed interview. Depending on the nature of the sexual assault, the patrol officer may ask you to go to the hospital to treat any injuries and have a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) completed. The purpose of the kit is to collect potential forensic evidence. If you have chosen not to receive medical care, a police report will still be taken. It will be your decision whether or not to proceed with a criminal investigation.

The Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) is a voluntary process where your consent is required.  You do not have to have a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit administered in order to have police involvement. Should you decide not to complete a SAEK as part of your care, the officer will continue with the investigation and take a report.

The SAEK is a specially sealed box that contains envelopes, bottles and other containers used to collect evidence.

Evidence can be collected at many different points in time, however the sooner the better is best approach.  More evidence is available for collection within 72 hours of the assault, however good evidence is still available even up to a week later. Upon your assessment the medical team will work with you to collect all pertinent samples for evidence.

The Kit can be kept stored for up to one year and is kept in the Sexual Assault Care Centre. The SAEK can be given to the police immediately, or you can have time to decide if you want the police involved.

If you choose to have the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit done:

  • Clothing worn during the assault can be kept as evidence.
  • If possible, try not to urinate before you reach the hospital.
  • Try not to shower or use a feminine douche product.

More information about this process is on the Ottawa Hospital's website.

If you live outside of Ottawa and wish to find a centre in your area, visit the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres.

What happens after I consent to release the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit to police:

The Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) is retrieved by police from the hospital and immediately turned over to a Forensic Identification Officer(FIO). A complete inventory of the SAEK is conducted to ensure all exhibits collected are accounted for. Upon reviewing the details of the case, the Forensic Identification Officer will contact the Center of Forensic Sciences(CFS) in order to obtain authorization for submission. If more information is required prior to requesting a submission to CFS, the Forensic Identification Officer will contact the Investigator assigned to the case. Not all exhibits are submitted for analysis. Based on the case history, only the most probative exhibits from the SAEK and/or clothing will be submitted. The Center of Forensic Sciences has a turn-around time of 30 days for providing analysis results.

Who will investigate my case?

Sexual assaults that occur in the City of Ottawa are assigned to the Ottawa Police Service, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit (SACA).  Officers assigned to this unit have received training specific to sexual assault investigations.

Investigators will keep you informed of the status of your case, bail conditions, court dates, and trial sentencing. The investigator can help you get support, assistance and referrals.

If you are a resident of Ottawa but the sexual assault took place in a different city, the Ottawa Police will provide assistance to the investigating police service.

The Victim Support Unit of the Ottawa Police Service will be there to support you throughout the process. If charges are laid, an outside organization called the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) will provide you support throughout the court proceedings. A high sense of confidentiality is employed by each organization assisting you with your case.

Do police always lay charges?

In some cases the police will not lay a charge. This does not mean that the police do not believe you or that the sexual assault did not happen. It may mean that there is not enough evidence to prove a criminal charge in court. If this does occur, the investigator can explain to you why this decision was made and any other options available to you.
What will be public information?

We strive to protect the identity of surviviors and prevent further victimization.

When a sexual assault is reported investigators will review all of the information and evidence to determine if a media release is required. A media release with details of the crime (date/time, location, suspect descriptors and type of offence) will be issued when:

  • a risk to public safety exists;
  • police seek the  public's assistance for information that would assist in the investigation and / or the identification of a suspect and/or witnesses;
  • police believe that there are additional victims who may come forward as a result of a media release; 
  • a charge has been laid or there are significant updates to the investigation.

To protect the identity of victims the police will not publish a victim's name or their address. General information about a victim such as, age and sex is typically included in a media release.  Sexual assaults fall under the realm of publication bans. The court may impose a publication ban to protect the fairness and integrity of the case and to protect the identity of complainants and witnesses from being published in print or being broadcast on television, film or radio.

It is important for you to know that although the police strive to protect the identity of survivors, the media may not necessarily follow the same guidelines. Media are known to canvass in the location where the offence occurred to gather information about the crime and to interview the survivor(s). At court the media may attempt to speak with the survivor(s).  A publication ban prevents media from publishing the name of the survivor(s).  It is your choice to opt to speak with media or not.

The investigator assigned to your case and a member from the Victim/Witness Assistance Program will support you throughout the trial process.

What is the criminal justice process?

There are a number of legal processes that could occur throughout the course of a sexual assault investigation. This guide will help to provide you with a better understanding of the process.

If you do not want to proceed criminally, we have partnered with many other agencies that can help you during this difficult time. 

What is the offender is not caught?
Unsolved sexual assault cases are never closed. If additional information is received, the case will be assigned for further investigation.
What happens after the arrest?

When a person is arrested and charged with a criminal offence, they become "the accused". Depending on the circumstances of the case police can hold the accused in custody for a bail hearing or release them from the police station with conditions. 

If the police do not release the accused, the accused must appear before a Justice of Peace (JP) or a Judge within 24 hours of the arrest for a bail hearing.

At a bail hearing (short trial), the Justice of Peace or Judge decides to either release the accused on bail or keep them in jail while they wait for trial. To be released on bail the accused must agree to obey conditions imposed by the court, either on their own or with the assistance of a surety. A surety is a person who attends court and promises to supervise the accused while they are out on bail. A surety also promises an amount of money to the court. The surety risks forfeiting all or some of this money to the court if the accused fails to  attend court or follow bail conditions.

One of the conditions is usually a "No Contact Order". This means that the accused cannot have any contact with any person(s) such as witnesses or victims named in the order--not even through a third party. The accused cannot contact anyone named in the order by phone, letter, email, text or in person. Generally, the accused will not be allowed near the home, school and/or work of anyone named in the order. If the accused disobeys any of their bail conditions, police need to be contacted. The accused can be arrested, charged and held in custody to appear before a Justice of the Peace or Judge. 

How long does the court process take?
Depending on the case, the court process may anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. This length of time may be difficult for you. It is important to get support during this period. There are community agencies that can help you through the process. 
What is a preliminary hearing?
A preliminary hearing (mini trial) is conducted by a judge to determine whether there is enough evidence to put the accused on trial.  A preliminary hearing can be requested by either the accused or the Crown Attorney. This type of hearing is common in sexual assault cases. You will most likely have to testify in a preliminary hearing. Other witnesses may have to testify as well. The accused and their lawyer may also attend and the accused may testify.
What is a trial?

A trial is when the Crown Attorney and a lawyer for the accused will ask you and other witnesses to tell the Judge what happened before, during and after the sexual assault. At the end of the trial, the Judge will make a decision.

At the beginning of the trial, the accused will enter a plea of "guilty" or "not guilty" to the charges.  A guilty plea means that the accused admits to the charges. In these cases, there will not be a trial and you will not have to testify. The judge will listen to the evidence of the case, find the accused guilty and decide the punishment to be imposed.

A plea of "not guilty" means the accused does not admit to the crime. The accused will then request a trial before a judge alone or before a judge and a jury. In these cases you will have to attend court to testify at the trial.

It is important to remember that if the Judge decides the accused is not guilty, this does not mean that you or witnesses were not believed. It simply means that Judges have to let people go if the Crown's evidence did not support a conviction according to legal standards, which in a criminal case are very high. If the accused is found not guilty, the accused is free to go. This is called an acquittal. If the accused is found guilty, the Judge will choose from a range of sentences.

Will I have to testify in court?

If the accused chooses to plead not guilty, you will most likely be required to testify at the preliminary hearing and at the trial. There are several resources that will help you prepare for court. The investigator will offer these resources to you.

Court Prep is an online resource that educates survivors on the justice process through interactive learning.

What if I am not comfortable communicating in English?
You will be allowed to communicate in whatever language you are most comfortable with. If you require an interpreter to help you communicate with the police or to testify in court, one will be provided to you. In addition, if you require a sign language interpreter, one will be made available to you.
What is a Victim Impact Statement?

If the court finds the accused guilty or if the accused pleads guilty, the Crown Attorney will ask you to complete a Victim Impact Statement. Completing a Victim Impact Statement is your choice. You are not required to do this in order for the accused to be sentenced. However, it is very important for the Judge to understand the impact of the sexual assault on you and your life. If you do submit this statement, the Judge is required to consider it when deciding what penalty will be imposed.

The statement is your opportunity to say how the sexual assault has affected your life, emotionally and physically. A police officer involved in your case, a Victim Services worker or a Victim/Witness Assistance Program worker can help you understand the Victim Impact Statement forms.

What kind of sentencing can a judge order?


A finding of guilt is made but no conviction is registered, and there are no conditions to follow. An absolute discharge will stay on an offender's criminal record for one year after the date they received the discharge.


A finding of guilt is made, but no conviction is registered. The offender must follow conditions that always come in a probation order and can be in effect from one to three years.


A suspended sentence involves following conditions in a probation order for a period of one to three years.

A judge may choose to delay or "suspend" giving a sentence to the offender. The Judge may then release the offender on a probation order. The offender does not serve any jail time but is under the supervision of a probation officer.

A judge may use this option to see how the offender complies with their probation. This allows the Judge to decide on a more serious penalty or to suspend the sentence until the probation period is complete.

An offender who gets a suspended sentence has a conviction registered against them. This means that the offender who gets a suspended sentence will have a criminal record and will have to apply for a pardon to have the conviction removed from their record.


When a judge orders a sentence of 90 days or less, the offender may serve their jail sentence in blocks of time such as, weekends only. This allows the offender to go to work or school, care for children, or manage any health concerns. This sentence always comes with a probation order. The offender must abide by the probation order when they are not in custody.


The offender is sentenced to a jail term and a conviction is registered against them. An offender has to apply for a pardon in order to have a jail sentence removed from their record. During imprisonment the Judge can impose a "No Contact Order" as part of the sentence. This means the offender cannot contact person(s) named in the order from jail.

If the sentence is less than two years, the offender serves their sentence in a provincial jail. Upon their release from jail, the offender may be ordered to report to a probation officer.

If the sentence is two years or more, the offender will be sent to a federal prison. There are minimum, medium and maximum-security prisons. The security level is determined by the risk the offender poses within the prison.


Probation is a type of sentence served by the accused in the community under the supervision of a probation officer. The offender usually has conditions (rules to follow)that are listed on the probation order.  The survivor can be notified of any conditions that the offender must abide by. These conditions may include; abstaining from alcohol, staying away from certain areas or people, or to attend counseling, to seek or maintain employment and to obey a curfew.

A Probation Order cannot last more than three years.

If the offender violates any of the conditions of probation they may be arrested and charged with a new offence of "Breach of Probation".


The accused or the Crown Attorney can ask for a higher court to review an acquittal, conviction, or sentence given by a judge. This must be done within 30 days of the Judge's decision.

If the higher court agrees to hear the appeal, the new court may change the original court's decision, sentence, or order a whole new trial. You do not have to testify at an appeal court. You will only be called to testify again if a new trial is ordered.

What is Parole?

Most offenders can apply for early release from prison after serving one third of their sentence or after seven years, whichever comes first. A parole board will decide, based on the offender's behavior and completed programming or treatment; whether or not to approve the offender's request to parole. Offenders who are denied parole can reapply every two years.

Some offenders in the federal prison system are not allowed to apply for parole after serving one third of their sentence. In these cases, the Judge will decide during the sentencing the date the offender is allowed to apply for parole.

If parole is approved for an offender, this does not mean the offender is free with without supervision. The offender will be released from prison and will serve the remainder of their sentence in the community under specified conditions and under the supervision of a parole officer.

If you need further help in understanding the criminal court process, a diagram of the different phases of a criminal case is provided on the following page. 

When will the offender be released from prison?

Most offenders will not serve their full sentence in jail. In most cases, an offender will be released from jail on parole after serving a part of their sentence. Parole ensures that the offender does not get out of jail and return to the community without anyone from the justice system keeping track of them. You can request to be notified of the offender's release and parole hearings.

If the offender is serving a sentence in a provincial jail, you may register with the Victim Notification System by calling toll free at: 1-888-579-2888, following which you can then choose the option for the "Victim Notification Service".

If the offender is serving a sentence in a federal prison, you may register with the National Parole Board by calling toll free at: 1-800-518-8817, to ensure you can be notified of parole hearings.

You can also call the Victim Services Unit of Correctional Service Canada toll free at: 1-866-806-2275 - select 3 for Ontario--so that you can be notified if the offender transfers, is released or escapes.

More information: