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December 7, 2023 Dec 07, 2023 9 min read

I Was Sexually Assaulted. Should I Report?


  • Most instances of rape and sexual assault go unreported for a variety of reasons
  • The decision whether or not to report is a personal one which should be left to the individual
  • The primary benefit of reporting sexual assault is that it allows the victim to pursue legal action against a perpetrator(s)
  • Reporting can also help lead to increased safety for the victim in some cases (for example, if the perpetrator is incarcerated and/or if the victim is granted a protection order)
  • The unfortunate downside to reporting is that navigating the legal system as a survivor of sexual trauma can be extremely distressing and even retraumatizing, and the process of pursuing legal action against a perpetrator does not lead to arrest or prosecution in the majority of cases
  • Even if incarceration does result from a victim’s report, incarceration is not proven to deter individual offenders from committing future sexually violent acts or reduce the rate of sex crime in society overall

The decision whether or not to report an experience of rape or sexual assault is a personal one. While there are plenty of important reasons one might choose to report an assault to the authorities, there are also many reasons to decide against it. In fact, most instances of sexual assault go unreported. Below, we’ll provide a list of pros and cons to help you decide if reporting is right for you.

Deciding Whether to Report Sexual Assault


Legal benefits

Reporting allows a victim to pursue criminal charges against a perpetrator(s), which is the primary reason why a victim might choose to report.


Even if your case doesn’t result in a criminal trial, however, reporting can also aid prosecution in a civil case and/or increase the likelihood that a victim can secure a protection order against their abuser. If a victim intends to pursue legal measures of any kind, filing a police report is an important first step.


If you’re interested in reporting, you can learn more about this process from our article “Where, When, and How to Report Rape or Sexual Assault.”


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Safety benefits

Reporting sexual assault can potentially result in increased safety for victims if and when a perpetrator is incarcerated. However, victims should be aware that less than half of all reported rape results in prosecution, so reporting is not a guarantee of increased safety. It should also be noted that perspectives vary widely on whether or not incarceration is an effective strategy for increasing survivor safety or reducing the rate of sex crime overall.


If a victim plans to pursue an order for protection from the court (also known as a “restraining order”), reporting can help bolster the likelihood of receiving legal protection. To learn more about protection orders and how they work, check out “What is a Protection Order?”

Societal benefits

If more sexual assault victims chose to report, the more accurate sex crime statistics would be. Accurate sex crime statistics are important because they inform public policy and social service availability and funding. Even if your case doesn’t result in arrest or prosecution, reporting your assault will contribute to the overall accuracy of sex crime statistics locally and globally. Across the US and Canada, rape crisis centres are losing critical funding at devastating rates, and while reporting an individual instance of sexual assault can’t reverse this trend, the more people speak out, the better.


Emotional toll

Although this shouldn’t be taken as a reason not to report, it’s important to note that navigating the legal system as a victim of sexual assault or abuse can be extremely distressing and difficult. The process of reporting alone can be unpleasant and even retraumatizing for victims, and as an investigation moves forward, a victim will be expected to recount their story numerous times in front of a revolving door of authority figures and potentially even a judge and jury. 


Throughout this process, many sexual assault victims find that they are perceived as guilty or at fault by a system that should, in theory, strive to protect them. Because sexual assault cases face a high burden of proof, individual victims are expected to demonstrate and “prove” their trauma and victimhood to the legal system. Being aware of the emotional toll this process can take is an important part of making an informed decision about whether or not to report.

Potential for retaliation from an abuser

Threats of further violence from abusers should not control a victim’s decision regarding reporting. However, some people may have to think strategically about the overall costs and benefits of reporting. If someone is stuck in an unsafe situation with their abuser, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possibility of retaliation should the victim decide to report. If a sexual assault case is viable, the assailant will be served court papers, making them formally aware of the fact that a victim has pressed charges.


In some cases (including many places throughout Canada), victims can report anonymously through third-party reporting services. That said, the court system may still be aware of the victim’s identity, and the perpetrator may be able to deduce their identity as well if a case is pursued. To find out about third-party reporting in your area, look up your nearest crisis centre using Go Thrive Go.

Low likelihood of prosecution

When weighing the pros and cons of reporting, it’s important to set realistic expectations about possible outcomes. According to the most recently available data, just over 1% of all rape cases are referred to a prosecutor, and less than 1% result in felony prosecution. This means that if your primary hope by reporting is incarceration for the perpetrator, there’s an extremely low likelihood that this will actually happen.

Incarceration may not reduce sex crimes overall

Incarceration as a strategy to reduce sex crimes and/or keep victims safe is hotly debated among activists and survivors alike. There is currently no solid data to support the idea that incarceration of sex offenders significantly reduces sex crimes. In fact, researchers believe that incarceration can actually lead to an increase in future criminality, or “recidivism,” especially in the context of severe sentencing.


So, while it’s extremely understandable to want to pursue legal action against a perpetrator in the wake of sexual assault, this path might not ultimately lead where we think it does. While it’s an unfortunate reality to face, the truth is that most victims of sexual assault who report their experiences are put through an invasive and emotionally distressing process unlikely to result in an outcome that benefits them directly.


At the end of the day, the decision whether or not to report rape or sexual assault is entirely up to each victim. Whatever choice you end up making is okay, and those who choose not to report are no less legitimate than those who do. If reporting is the right path for you, it’s important to be aware of the emotional toll this process can have. With support from friends, family, legal advisors, and/or advocates, pursuing legal action against a perpetrator can be an excellent decision for some victims. Even if your decision to report doesn’t lead to an ideal outcome, speaking out about sexual assault helps build awareness and may even contribute to better resource access for other victims.


If you decide to report, prepare by reading “Where, When, and How to Report Sexual Assault or Rape” and “What to Bring When Reporting Sexual Assault to the Police.”


To learn about all of the legal options available to victims, check out our article “Legal Options for Victims of Sexual Assault and Rape.”

Summary :

Most instances of rape and sexual assault go unreported. If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault or rape, deciding whether or not to report your experience to the authorities is a complex and personal process. The main reason some victims choose to report is the desire to pursue legal action against a perpetrator. Reporting can also help bolster the likelihood that a victim could be granted a protection order from the court. Other reasons to report include the possibility for increased safety if the abuser is incarcerated. However, a very small percentage of reports result in incarceration of a perpetrator. Many victims choose not to report because they are either not interested in pursuing legal measures or fear they may face retaliation from an abuser. It’s also worth noting that incarceration is not proven to reduce sex crime rates, and many victims who decide to pursue cases against their perpetrators face emotional re-traumatization within the legal system. Regardless, reporting is a highly personal decision, and each survivor deserves to be respected as the expert of their own needs and best choices.

About the Author

Dana Anastasia (they/them) is an independent writer, editor, podcaster, and artist. With a degree in interdisciplinary sociology and a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, Dana brings a keen awareness of victim and survivor needs and experiences to their work. Learn more at


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