Release: New report details why women often do not report sexual assault through the criminal justice system – in their own words

VANCOUVER – Today, West Coast LEAF released a report about why women often do not report sexual assault through the criminal justice system – in women’s own voices. We Are Here: Women’s Experiences of the Barriers to Reporting Sexual Assault centres women’s experiences of the devastating impacts of sexual assault, which are all too often deepened by the legal system’s inadequate responses.

Changes in the justice system and in society are urgently needed to offer viable paths to justice for all survivors of sexual assault in Canada—almost 90% of whom are women. Indigenous women are nearly three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-Indigenous women. Only about 5% of sexual assaults are reported to police, and only 11% of the cases that are reported eventually lead to a conviction.

“Sexual assault is currently the most under-reported crime in Canada,” explains Alana Prochuk, report author and West Coast LEAF’s Manager of Public Legal Education. “We live in a culture that misplaces blame for sexual assault at the feet of those who have been assaulted. Many women told us that concerns about being blamed, stereotyped, or automatically disbelieved dissuaded them from reporting sexual assault. The risk of encountering such attitudes—in the justice system, as in the rest of society—is particularly acute for the most marginalized survivors, including those who are Indigenous, are racialized, have disabilities, or do sex work. The potential for re-traumatization through the justice system is very real, particularly when discrimination and victim-blaming come into play.”

“The criminal justice system is only one of many necessary responses to the problem of sexual assault, including Indigenous healing opportunities, housing, counselling services, and health care,” adds Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “For some survivors, engaging with the legal system is not part of their path to healing and justice. For other survivors, seeking legal recourse is hugely important, yet they may find that overwhelming obstacles stand in the way. Our justice system can and must prioritize the rights of complainants alongside the rights of the accused so that reporting sexual assault to police becomes a real option for all those who want to pursue it.”

This report is one of the outcomes of a partnership between West Coast LEAF and the YWCA Metro Vancouver. Staff at the YWCA recruited and interviewed a number of sexual assault survivors who generously and anonymously shared their experiences and insights regarding the decision of whether or not to report to police. Eighteen of those women’s experiences are highlighted in the report.

Lisa Rupert, Vice-President of Housing Services and Violence Prevention at the YWCA adds, “We are deeply grateful to the women who shared their insight and knowledge about issues and barriers to inform changes to the criminal justice system’s response to sexual assault.  Their participation in the Dismantling the Barriers project brought an invaluable perspective.”


Read the executive summary.