Sexual assault has been a prevailing topic of conversation for most Canadians in the wake of disturbing allegations of violence against former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi.

Some of those who have accused Ghomeshi, including ‘Trailer Park Boys’ actress Lucy DeCoutere, have come forward to police to proceed with a criminal investigation.

On Monday, former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps also spoke out, saying she was sexually assaulted by a member of the Ontario legislature more than 30 years ago. Copps said she came forward to shed light on a number of systemic problems with investigating sexual assaults on Parliament Hill and elsewhere.

Police services and support groups have tried to be honest with victims about some of the challenges they may face.

Here are some things to note about sexual assault investigations in Canada:

1.) There is no statute of limitations for sexual assault. Several women who have come forward to report sexual assaults in the past month are citing incidents that occurred more than a decade ago.

2.) If you come forward to police to report an incident of sexual assault, you are not obligated to move forward with a criminal case. If you do not go ahead with a criminal investigation, police will still connect you with support services to help with your recovery. Services include face-to-face counselling, legal and medical services, personal safety planning and public education. 

3.) Unsolved sexual assault cases are never closed. If police are unable to locate an offender or press charges, that case will remain open and active. If more information comes to light, an arrest can still be made.

4.) The vast majority of sexual assaults are not reported to police. According to Statistics Canada, only about six per cent of sexual assaults are brought forward to sex crime investigators. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres cites another stat on its website, saying that only 40 per cent of sexual assaults reported to police result in charges and of those, about two thirds result in convictions.

5.) Many victims are familiar with their attacker. According to information published by Statistics Canada in 2003, in cases reported to police, 80 per cent of sexual assault survivors know the person who assaulted them.

6.) If you report an incident to police and charges are not laid, that does not mean police do not believe your claims. Investigators may opt not to press charges due to the fact that there is not enough of evidence to prove the charge in court.

7.) A sexual assault investigation can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. Once the case hits the court system, a bail hearing, preliminary inquiry, trial and sentencing are all a part of the legal process.

8.) A sexual assault conviction can result in a variety of sentences, including probation, house arrest, an intermittent sentence, and jail time. Most offenders will not serve their full sentence in jail. If an offender is paroled, they are required to serve their sentence under supervision and specified conditions in the community. You can register to be notified of parole hearings.

9) Services for victims do not end after the court proceedings do. People who need help coping with trauma in the aftermath of an assault can continue to have access to community support services.

Source: ‘A Guide For Sexual Assault Survivors’ (Toronto Police Service, Victim Services Toronto ), ‘Dispelling The Myths About Sexual Assault’ (Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres)