Even though the rate of self-reported sexual assaults has remained relatively stable, the percentage of offenses that were reported to the police dropped from about 12% in 2009 to 5% in 2014.
It is estimated that less than 1% of sexual assaults experienced by women lead to an offender being convicted. The estimate is based on a 2012 analysis of self-reported sexual assault data and court statistics. The majority of offenders walk free.
After a sexual assault, a women might experience a range of psychological responses that affect her ability to report an incident, including denial, shock, guilt, shame, embarrassment, grief, anger, and fear.
In a Global/Ipsos Reid poll, the most common reason women gave for not reporting a sexual assault to the police was feeling young and powerless (56%). Forty per cent of respondents said they stayed silent because of the shame they felt and 29% said they blamed themselves for the assault. Others worried that reporting would bring dishonour to their families, feared retaliation from their attacker, or said they didn’t have faith in the criminal justice system.
Of the survivors in the Global/Ipsos Reid poll who did report a sexual assault to police, 71% said the experience was negative.
Some women begin to feel re-victimized when they report sexual assault and go through the legal process: “Women often suffer secondary victimization when they turn to the police, social services, friends, or family if, as can happen, they are not believed, blamed or made to feel responsible for the violence, or subjected to callous or insensitive treatment, when police fail to take evidence, or when their cases are dropped arbitrarily.”
Sexual assault and harassment can be traumatic for survivors; many people experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the process of reporting an incident can be re-traumatizing.
Immigrant women who arrive in Canada traumatized by war or oppressive governments may be less likely to report physical or sexual violence to the authorities for fear of further victimization or even deportation.
Studies suggest that when women of colour report violence, particularly rape, their experiences are often taken less seriously within the criminal justice system.
There is a belief that it is common for women to falsely report sexual assault. But a review of various international research on false reporting of sexual assault suggests that false reporting happens in 2% to 8% of cases.