There are many types of support that a victim/survivor may draw upon - both formal and informal. There are many ways that people find healing which can include but is not limited to: peer support, friends, family, Elders, traditional ceremonies, spiritual and/or religious communities, and community activism. Below are descriptions of some formal types of support available in Nova Scotia.
If the assault(s) took place within the last five days, the victim/survivor will be able to access the services of a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). These registered nurses have advanced training in providing non-judgmental, confidential support as well as conducting medical exams and collecting forensic evidence. People of any gender can access this service (woman, man, trans, non-binary people etc.).
A person may want to see a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner to: take care of any physical injuries, test for pregnancy, test for STIs and begin treatment if necessary, and collect evidence for police.
Evidence will only be collected at the request of the person who has been assaulted. The victim/survivor has a minimum of six months to decide if they want the evidence to be transferred to the police.
When you go to one of the above-mentioned hospitals and tell staff you have been sexually assaulted they will call a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and take you to a private room. The nurses will arrive between 45 to 90 minutes after being called. A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner will not involve the police unless requested by the victim/survivor. However, if the individual is under the age of 16, then they are mandated to report to the Department of Community Services.
It is important to know that the whole process takes approximately two to four hours. The victim/survivor can also bring a support person to the SANE exam. It is preferred, but not required, that you come directly to the hospital without showering or changing to preserve forensic evidence. Bring a change of clothes if you can so that you can shower and change following the examination. The victim/survivor has the right to end the examination at any time, for any reason.
You may want to call or visit one of three sexual assault centres located in Nova Scotia.
These centres exist to support victims/survivors of sexual violence, educate the public, and work to end sexualized violence in our society. The centres are staffed by trained and experienced professionals.
The centres offer a wide range of services and supports including:
- Access to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (Avalon and Antigonish only)
- Information and referrals
- Free individual counselling
- Free group therapy
|Halifax||Avalon Sexual Assault Centre||Counselling for women and trans people only|
|Antigonish||Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre
and Sexual Assault Services Association (SASA)
|Counselling for women and trans people only|
|Truro||Colchester Sexual Assault Centre||Counselling for all genders|
You do not have to live in the above-mentioned regions to access these services.
If a victim/survivor chooses not to see a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner they may still want to access medical care. If the person is located in the Halifax region or can travel to Halifax another option is to visit The Halifax Sexual Health Centre. All of the Centre’s services are provided for free to anyone with a valid Nova Scotia health card as well as to Canadians from another province with a valid health card (Québec residents must pay up front and get reimbursed).
The Centre provides services including (but not limited to): pelvic examinations, emergency contraception (the “morning after pill”), pregnancy testing, tests and treatments for Sexually Transmitted Infection (STIs), anonymous HIV testing, and counselling regarding pregnancy options including abortion referrals.
The Centre provides care that is: confidential, inclusive and respectful of diversity, sex positive, pro-choice, youth positive and rainbow community positive.
Sydney, Stellarton, Amherst, Sheet Harbour and Bridgewater also have sexual health centres and can provide information, support, and referrals but do not offer clinical services.
This program provides up to 4 hours of free, independent legal advice for victims/survivors who are 16+ years of age who were sexually assaulted in Nova Scotia. Registration is done through an independent agency, 211 Nova Scotia, and participants do not have to report to police or take legal action if they use this service.
Call 211 to register. You do not need to provide details about what happened. You only have to say that you were sexually assaulted in Nova Scotia, and that you would like to speak with a lawyer.
Once you are registered, you will be sent a package with a certificate number for 2-hours of legal advice. Your package will also have a list of participating lawyers. Choose any lawyer on the list and contact them with your certificate number to make an appointment. If more time is needed, call 211 NS and they will send you another certificate number for an 2-hour session of legal advice.
You can choose any lawyer you want from the participating lawyers list. To help you make your choice, there is a biography about each lawyers’ background and experience. All of the lawyers have been screened by the program, have received training, and have agreed to follow the program’s terms. Once you pick a lawyer, you can contact them and give them the number on your 2-hour certificate. This is how they will know that you are part of the program. You can meet with the lawyer in person, by telephone, or through videoconferencing like Skype.
The program was created by Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice, but the Department does not have access to participants’ names or contact information. When the lawyers send in their invoices, they use the certificate number only. The only information that 211 NS will share with the Department of Justice is non-identifying data. This information helps to measure if the program is being used.
To learn more, visit: https://novascotia.ca/sexualassaultlegaladvice/ or call 2-1-1.
Following an assault, the victim/survivor may choose to report it to police. In Canada, there is no time limit – or “statute of limitation” – on reporting a sexual assault. Every person has different and valid reasons for reporting or not reporting to police.
It is important that you do not pressure the person you are supporting either to report or not to report.
If the victim/survivor sees a nurse examiner, they have the option to undergo a forensic exam wherein the nurse collects evidence. This evidence can be immediately transferred to police or it can be held for a minimum of six months while the person who was violated decides if they want to report later.
If the victim/survivor chooses to report the sexual violence to the police, the police will first take a statement. It is important to know, that this statement is videotaped and will be used as the person’s “official statement” regarding the sexual violence in court. However, the videotaped statement does not eliminate the need for the person to give testimony in court. The victim/survivor can bring a support person to the police station, but the support person cannot be in the room when the victim/survivor gives their statement.
The statement and any further communication with the police about the event will be disclosed to both the Crown Attorney and the Defence lawyers and can be used/shared in court by either party.
Some people may opt to get legal advice regarding (for example) their statement to police, or what they could reasonably expect, before they report. It is important to note that it is the police who lay charges and the Crown Attorney who pursues those charges. The Crown Attorney is the lawyer who represents the province, not the victim/survivor, in court. This means that the Crown Attorney is not the victim/survivor’s lawyer and the victim/survivor does not get their own lawyer. A victim/survivor can hire a lawyer for support and guidance but they cannot represent you at most court hearings, such as Trial and Sentencing.
In Nova Scotia, if the victim/survivor decides that they do not want charges laid or that they want charges withdrawn, the police and/or the Crown Attorney will respect their request and not proceed with the charges.
If the sexual violence happened recently, the police will also collect evidence, which could include the person’s clothes, items from the location in which the assault took place and pictures of any marks or injuries. They may also interview any witnesses who were present or have relevant information.
The police will then question the person who perpetrated the violence (called “the suspect” during the investigation and the “accused” if charges are laid). The officer in charge should communicate with the victim/survivor throughout the investigation.
When a victim/survivor reports the sexual violence to police they are entitled to access Victim Services, which offers support and services to victims of crimes. If a victim/survivor is considering reporting to the police, they can contact Victim Services to get information about what to expect if they do decide to report. The Department of Justice (DOJ) Victim Services program also provides financial support for counselling, provided by approved private counsellors, for victim/survivors of violence through the Criminal Injuries Counselling Program. Victim Services staff can also help a victim/survivor apply for the Criminal Injuries Counselling Program.
The Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network is a support system free of charge for Aboriginal people involved in Nova Scotia’s criminal justice system.
The Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network has two Aboriginal Victim Support Workers who can guide a victim/survivor throughout the court process, help them prepare for court, and assist with victim impact statements. One Support Worker serves Cape Breton and one mainland Nova Scotia. Charges do not have to be laid in order to access services.
Cape Breton – 1-877- 379-2042
Mainland NS - 902-895- 1141