Holly Johnson publishes an article in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law

Why doesn’t she just report it? Apprehensions and contradictions for women who report sexual violence to the police

Professor Holly Johnson (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa) has published an article in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law.


A specific goal of law and policy reform has been to encourage women to come forward with sexual assault complaints, but has the nature of the police response improved to warrant this encouragement? While analyses of attrition point to important junctures where cases are dropped, less is known about the diverse and complex decisions women make to engage the criminal justice system and the apprehensions and contradictions that play out in their dealings with the police. This article presents the results of a study of sexual assault survivors whose assaults were reported to the police in a mid-sized Canadian city through analysis of their experiences, from the decision to report to the police through to their interactions with front line officers and sexual assault investigators. While some police officers delivered procedural justice in the form of a professional non-judgmental response, others acted on “real rape” understandings of sexual assault and conveyed disbelief, skepticism, and a poor understanding of the effects of trauma. Although charging and prosecution rates have not improved, results of this study show that survivors who engage with police are increasingly likely to expect a positive response. Some women were willing to trust that “things have changed” or their experience was unique. In an era of growing formal equality and heightened expectations of police, results of this study show that there is a long way to go before women are guaranteed equality in the application of sexual assault law.