Sexual Violence Against Young Women and Police Response

“[The police should] make us feel more safe and do more to make the community aware they are taking abuse seriously.” (Youth Alliance Report, p.14)

These are not my words, but I understand them.

Imagine if you filed a police report about the sexual abuse or other form(s) of sexual violence overwhelming your life and you did not receive the support you expected. Support from the men and women we are all taught to trust from the time we are small children because it is the job of the police to protect us from bad things and bad people.

A police officer once asked me why I had waited so long to file a report about the sexual abuse I had experienced in my youth. As an adult, that question shocked me and for a moment, it made me feel as if there was something wrong with me for not coming forward sooner. That question still haunts me today because I know it should never have been asked.

Imagine my sadness a few months ago when I began working to raise awareness about the Youth Alliance Report, and learned that young women in Toronto are experiencing barriers to accessing real support from the police. Young women in Toronto report feeling blamed for being victimized by sexual violence. Young women in Toronto feel re-victimized when they report experiences of sexual violence to the police. Young women in Toronto feel uncertain that they can trust the police to follow through when they report incidents of sexual violence, especially if the perpetrator is someone they know.

No young woman in Toronto – no young woman anywhere – should ever feel any of this.

The Youth Alliance is a group of five young women leaders in Toronto who came together to address policing, sexual assault, and gender-based violence against youth. The group was supported by the Toronto Police Service’s Sex Crimes Unit to review police policies and procedures from a youth perspective. The Youth Alliance also engaged in community-based research.

The end result is the Improving the System: Police Policy and Practice on Sexual Assault against Young Women, a report developed with support from METRAC (The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children).

The report identifies strengths, challenges, and gaps in Toronto Police Service policies and procedures and proposes recommendations in five key areas of concern:

  • policy and procedures
  • youth leadership
  • training
  • communications
  • accountability

As adults, even when we have a vague understanding of our rights, the workings of the justice system, and the people in place to support and protect us, we struggle. We struggle with the trauma of having to re-tell our stories of sexual abuse and other sexual violence to multiple sources to get them to see us as credible people who have survived and deserve the benefit of justice. We struggle to understand the existing policies and practices that re-victimize rather than protect us.

Young women should never experience these struggles.

One Toronto Police Service officer who participated in the development of the report stated, “Public and/or victim feedback is the best feedback the service can receive” (Youth Alliance Report, p.13).

It is important for everyone this report reaches to read the report and give feedback.

If you have concerns about what is detailed in the Youth Alliance Report contact Toronto Police Service:

Phone: 416-808-8000
Mail: Chief William Blair, Office of the Chief of Police, Toronto Police Service, 40 College Street, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2J3


Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime

In honour of the United Nations’ Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime, and with concern for the harmful impact of criminal victimization on individuals and on society, and in recognition that all persons have the full protection of rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other provincial Charters governing rights and freedoms; that the rights of victims and offenders need to be balanced; and of the shared jurisdiction of federal, provincial, and territorial governments, the federal, provincial, and territorial Ministers Responsible for Criminal Justice agree that the following principles should guide the treatment of victims, particularly during the criminal justice process.

The following principles are intended to promote fair treatment of victims and should be reflected in federal/provincial/territorial laws, policies and procedures:

  • Victims of crime should be treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect.
  • The privacy of victims should be considered and respected to the greatest extent possible.
  • All reasonable measures should be taken to minimize inconvenience to victims.
  • The safety and security of victims should be considered at all stages of the criminal justice process and appropriate measures should be taken when necessary to protect victims from intimidation and retaliation.
  • Information should be provided to victims about the criminal justice system and the victim’s role and opportunities to participate in criminal justice processes.
  • Victims should be given information, in accordance with prevailing law, policies, and procedures, about the status of the investigation; the scheduling, progress and final outcome of the proceedings; and the status of the offender in the correctional system.
  • Information should be provided to victims about available victim assistance services, other programs and assistance available to them, and means of obtaining financial reparation.
  • The views, concerns and representations of victims are an important consideration in criminal justice processes and should be considered in accordance with prevailing law, policies and procedures.
  • The needs, concerns and diversity of victims should be considered in the development and delivery of programs and services, and in related education and training.
  • Information should be provided to victims about available options to raise their concerns when they believe that these principles have not been followed.

Promoting Justice for Victims of Crime

Federal, Provincial, Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice first endorsed the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime in 1988 and approved a renewed version in 2003. The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, as part of its mandate relating to matters of federal responsibility, will enhance awareness among criminal justice personnel and policy makers of the needs and concerns of victims and the applicable laws that benefit victims of crime, including to promote the principles set out in the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime.

This information has been excerpted from the pages of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime on the Government of Canada web site.

The office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was created in 2007 to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims of crime. Please contact the office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime if you or someone you know has not been treated in accordance with these principles:

Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
P.O. Box 55037
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1A1
Toll-free Number: 1-866-481-8429
Outside Canada: 1-613-954-1651


Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide