Chapter 4 - Support

This chapter provides an overview and guidance for CAF members and for leadership teams on their roles and responsibilities in creating a safe, supportive environment of compassion and empathy for individuals who have been impacted by sexual misconduct.


  • 4.0. Share with someone you trust. Consider sharing with a friend, a co-worker, a family member, or coach. There are also more options available such as health care providers, the CAF Member Assistance Program, Chaplains, Mental Health, and external support mechanisms such as the SMRC.
  • 4.1. Seek medical care. Even if there are no obvious injuries or you don’t want to report the assault to the police, it is important to seek medical attention if the assault just happened. Sexual assault may result in injuries that are physical (e.g., bruising, genital trauma, STIs, HIV, pregnancy) or psychological (e.g., depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts). The consequences may also be chronic; some affected persons experience re-occurring gynecological, gastrointestinal, and sexual health problems. Affected persons may also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sexual assault is also associated with risk behaviours (e.g., smoking, excessive alcohol use) for chronic disease and medical conditions (e.g., high cholesterol, increased risk of a heart attack). The Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) can assist you with information on facilitated access to services.
  • 4.2. Connect with support. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that can impact you on many levels: work, psychological, physical, academic, social and emotional. Contact the SMRC, CAF Mental Health Services, your local chaplain, the Conflict and Complaint Management staff (CCM), or your local health service clinic, where someone is ready to listen to you, and will help you access resources and make an informed decision about next steps - if and when you choose to.
  • 4.3. Find time to look after yourself. If you can find time for self-care, it will help in your healing. The Tool “Practicing self-care after trauma” can help you get started.
  • 4.4. Victims who are the complainants in a matter where charges have been laid in the military justice system can ask for information about the process directly from the Canadian Military Prosecution Service at the following positional mailbox: +CMPS Victim Information-SCPM Information Victime@JAG DMP@Ottawa-Hull.

PROVIDE SUPPORT - How to respond to disclosures and provide initial and ongoing support

You do NOT have to ‘solve’ the problem to be an important support. If someone discloses sexual misconduct to you, it is okay to not have all the answers. People most often first disclose to people they trust, not because you are an expert. In fact, you do not have to be an expert to be supportive.



This is the most important thing you can do. One of the main reasons affected persons do not come forward is because they feel they will not be believed or they will be blamed for what happened.


Do more listening than talking. It is the person's experience and decision to make. Avoid giving advice and instead, ask them what they need and what is best for them.


Offer information on resources that they have expressed they want to access and assist them in contacting those resources or be with them when they do it.

  • 4.5. Some victims may appear very calm and describe the assault with little or no emotion. Others may express feelings verbally or by shaking, crying, restlessness, or tenseness. Remember, sexual assault victims have just experienced a traumatic event.
  • 4.6. For more detailed information and guidance on providing a supportive response to a disclosure of sexual assault, see the First Contact Support tool. The tool is meant to guide CAF members in how to provide a compassionate, supportive and consistent response to someone disclosing a sexual assault.

Note: There is a training video available on the Operation HONOUR website which demonstrates the main techniques of the First Contact Support tool.



  • 4.7. How we respond to sexual assault disclosures affects everyone. Start by believing that the person reporting is being honest. Other victims of sexual assault, and future victims, are watching to see how someone is treated when a sexual assault is disclosed. A negative response – disbelief, blaming, questioning, minimizing – can worsen the trauma and make it less likely that victims will seek the support and services they need. This also fosters an environment where perpetrators are not held to account for their actions, which may lead to more victims in the future and a deepening of the harm that is caused when such an event occurs.
  • 4.8. “Start by believing” is a necessary first step in minimizing the harm that could arise from a sexual assault. It is not about skipping due process. It is not assuming a suspect is guilty, as that is for the justice system to decide. “Start by believing” is about reacting to a disclosure, recognizing such an event would be a traumatic experience, and responding with the goal of minimizing harm now, and into the future, by offering support in a compassionate non-judgmental way.


  • 4.9. It is important to know that there is no normal or single way to react when someone you know has survived an act of sexual assault. Learning how to manage conflicting thoughts, feelings, and emotions which can be intense and difficult to deal with, can help you support the affected person and can help you feel less overwhelmed as well.
  1. Disbelief. When you first hear about the assault, it may seem surreal; you might have trouble believing the assault After a traumatic experience, it is common for victims and those around them to experience denial. It is important to focus on acknowledging their story.
  2. Anger. You might feel anger for a number of reasons: towards yourself for not being able to protect the affected person; towards the affected person for telling you about something that is hard to hear; or towards the alleged offender for carrying out the assault and hurting the victim. It can be difficult to keep anger from affecting the way you communicate.
  3. Sadness. When you learn that a trauma such as sexual assault has happened to someone you know, it is normal to feel worried, or powerless. You might feel sad for how this has changed the victim’s life. If you know the alleged offender, you might feel sad for how this has changed their life as well. Self-care strategies and coping skills can help you move through these feelings.
  4. Guilt.You may feel guilty that you could not prevent the assault from happening. You may feel guilty that something so terrible happened to someone else and not to you. It can be helpful to refocus your energy on making the victim feel supported as they move forward.
  5. Anxiety. You might feel anxious about responding the “right” way or worried about how this event will impact your relationship with the victim. Reassure them that the assault was not their fault and that you believe that they are being honest. These can be the most powerful and helpful words for a victim to hear.
  6. Confusion. You might feel confused by what you are hearing. You might not understand how it could happen or why it has happened. Sadly, sexual assaults are more common that we would like to think. Although you may be struggling with feelings of confusion, especially if you know the alleged offender, you should always try to believe the victim. They are never to blame for the assault.


  1. A judgmental, shocked, or over-reactive initial response.
  2. Disbelief, minimizing, or questioning the “truth” of a victim’s story or reactions – especially if they seem to be very calm, or do not want to report to police.
  3. Asking for unnecessary details, or focusing on the behaviour, appearance, and/or location of the victim at the time of the assault.
  4. Focusing on your own emotional reaction (e.g., horror, sadness, anger, recalling a similar experience you may have had).
  5. Questioning why a victim did not act in certain ways (e.g., fighting back, reporting immediately to police, or discontinuing contact with the alleged offender after the assault). It is important to note that people respond to a traumatic incident in many different ways; there is no “typical” response.
  • 4.10 The table at Figure 4 contains a list of harmful and helpful reactions to a disclosure.


Harmful reactions

Helpful reactions


Asking direct questions, trying to pull out details, or talking incessantly.


Listening to what the victim says without judgment and letting the victim express themselves in their own way and at their own pace.


Appearing to be sceptical or questioning what the victim tells you.


Believing what the victim tells you because it is their experience and their perception. For the moment, you must focus on what the victim is saying and experiencing.

Trivializing, minimizing, or over-dramatizing


Receiving what the victim says without minimalizing or amplifying the facts, emotions, or consequences.

Emphasizing what the victim could have said or done differently

Encouraging their strengths

Recognizing accomplishments and highlighting their strength and courage for talking about the traumatic experience.


Blaming the victim for what they did or did not do or implying that the victim is partially responsible for what happened.

Removing guilt

Getting the victim to understand that it is not their fault, that the aggressor is completely responsible for their own actions.


Figure 4: Harmful and helpful reactions to a disclosure


  • 4.11. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” is a common question which is asked of victims of sexual assault. A sexual assault most often includes profound humiliation and shame. Even though sexual assault is more about aggression, power and control, sexual assault involves a person’s sexual body parts and behaviours, both of which some people are embarrassed or feel ashamed to talk about. When there is physical violence (such as overpowering someone or using sex as a weapon), the trauma and shame can be deep; sexual assault is intensely dehumanizing, and the victim may feel like they lack control over their life.
  • 4.12. The following list explains some of the reasons expressed by victims for not coming forward after an assault.[1] It is likely that a victim of sexual assault may:
  1. feel deeply embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated, especially if the assault was perpetrated by someone they trusted, or if there were drugs or alcohol involved;
  2. fear they will not be believed or will be blamed, especially if this has been their experience in the past or they have seen this kind of thing in popular culture (e.g., television, movies);
  3. be confused about whether or not it was sexual assault (especially if alcohol or drugs were involved);
  4. fear for their safety, or the safety of their friends, especially if threats were involved;
  5. feel conflicted about the perpetrator getting into trouble, especially if they were assaulted by someone they know (e.g., intimate/dating partner, friend, family member) or if the perpetrator is part of the same unit;
  6. fear retaliation, such as reprisal, ostracism, or maltreatment for having reported the incident;
  7. fear the response of the police and the justice system or fear nothing will come of reporting; and
  8. hope to put it behind them quickly by avoiding talking about it or avoiding having contact with the perpetrator.
  • 4.13. All responses to sexual assault are attempts to survive this traumatic experience, both physically and emotionally. These responses can be particularly complex for victims who have experienced early and/or repeat trauma. They may appear anywhere on a continuum from calm and collected to frantic and distraught. A victim may also respond with anger, aggression, or even violence. All are ways of coping. If you are hearing about a sexual assault immediately after it happens, you may see the victim expressing anxiety, confusion, shock, and disbelief. They may also appear numb. They may be disoriented and their articulation of what happened may not seem coherent.
  • 4.1.4.Each victim copes with sexual assault differently. It is important to remember that there is no right way for a victim to feel, and there is no set timeline for when a victim should be feeling better. To heal from sexual assault, victims need to draw on their individual strengths and skills and find what works best for them.


  • 4.15. If someone has trusted you enough to disclose the event to you, consider the following ways to show your continued support:
  1. Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that does not mean the pain is gone. Check in with the victim to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.
  2. Avoid judgment. It can be difficult to watch a victim struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they are taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”
  3. Remember that the healing process is fluid. Everyone has bad days. Do not interpret flashbacks, bad days, or silent spells as “setbacks.” It is all part of the process.
  4. Provide resources. You can communicate that there are resources available to help them with self-care after trauma.
  • 4.16. Additionally, if the victim is a subordinate:
  1. Ensure that the person is allowed time to attend medical and other appointments. Assist with administrative and logistical arrangements so that the person can access services and receive care. Inform only those with a legitimate need to know why the person is absent or requires logistical assistance.
  2. Respect medical employment limitations. Do not ask or demand to know the diagnosis.
  3. Keep an eye on the person’s safety: Consider developing a workplace safety plan. If a Restraining or Protection Order has been issued to keep someone away from the victim, ensure that the terms are being respected. If the order is violated, notify law enforcement and the Commanding Officer at once.
  4. Movement of the victim or alleged offender. When determining if circumstances warrant temporary redeployment or reassignment of the victim or the alleged offender, consider the victim’s input on any movements prior to action.

Note: Good self-care enables you to better care for others, especially if there is someone in your life who has survived sexual assault. Refer to “Self-care for points of first contact” for guidance and tips in looking after yourself when providing continued support for a victim.



  • 4.17. The SMRC was specifically created to support CAF members who have been affected by sexual misconduct. The SMRC provides confidential supportive counselling and information on options, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The SMRC is independent from the chain of command.
  • 4.18. A Military Police Liaison Officer (MPLO) is co-located with the SMRC to assist affected persons or leaders who are interested in discussing any matter that falls under a policing mandate. The MPLO can provide information with respect to the investigative process and facilitate reporting of a complaint to the CFNIS, as required.
  • 4.19. The SMRC also has access to a Military Liaison Officer (MLO), a senior officer who has extensive up-to-date knowledge of the CAF, and can offer case-specific assistance and advice regarding CAF processes to affected persons or leaders.
  • 4.20. Civilian members of the Defence Team who contact the SMRC will be referred to services such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and other existing local specialized centres.

Phone: 1-844-750-1648 (North America toll-free)

613-996-3900 (Iridium (satellite) and collect from anywhere except the US)

86-996-3900 (CSN from Canada and many deployed operations)

(See website for alternate or international number)





  • 4.21. The CAF MAP is a confidential service, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, initiated by the CAF to help members and family members who have personal concerns that affect their well-being and/or work performance. Eligibility criteria can be found at the link below.

Phone: 1-800-268-7708



  • 4.22. Find your local CAF Health Service centre online at:



  • 4.23. To report a non-emergency crime, contact your nearest Military Police detachment or the police service of jurisdiction in your area.


  • 4.24. For serious and sensitive matters, you may file a complaint or speak with a member of CFNIS. The CFNIS Sexual Offence Response Team (SORT) is a team employed across the country dedicated to investigating sexual offences throughout the CAF and DND. Members are selected based on their experience, as well as a victim-orientated focus and a proven track record. They receive training on trauma-informed interviewing techniques and a variety of specialized courses taken at Canadian-based police colleges such as the Ontario Police College or Canadian Police College.



  • 4.25. Chaplains can provide support in many areas of your life, regardless of your beliefs. They offer a full spectrum of moral, spiritual, and religious support, advice, and care, including:
  1. crisis intervention;
  2. support and counseling;
  3. addressing moral and ethical dilemmas; and
  4. referring you to other care providers such as social workers, psychologists, or medical personnel.


Phone: 1-866-502-2203


  • 4.26. Conflict and Complaint Management Services (CCMS) centres are located across Canada. The service is available to members with a complaint or problem, those who receive a complaint, or those that are the subject of a report. Within the CAF, this service is available to:
  1. members of the Regular Force;
  2. members of the Reserve Force;
  3. members of the Canadian Rangers;
  4. members of the Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS); and
  5. members of the Supplementary Reserve.
  • 4.27. Contact a CCMS agent to learn about your rights, responsibilities, and options. Some of the services that CCMS agents provide include:
  1. assistance in determining the best option for resolving the conflict/complaint;
  2. assistance in opening avenues of communication with all parties associated with the conflict;
  3. guiding parties through an ADR process that will identify options for resolution; and
  4. providing service in person, by video-conference, or by telephone.



  • 4.28. The Ombudsman’s Office is a direct source of information, referral, options, assistance, and education. CAF members who are not sure how to have a concern addressed are free to contact the Ombudsman.



  • 4.29. The CAF has mandated teams of personnel located on each base and wing called Family Crisis Teams. These teams include medical and support personnel such as: social workers, health promotion field staff, chaplains, military police (MP), Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) social workers and, as appropriate, professional health and social service workers from the civilian community. Each team has a designated team leader, normally a CAF/DND social worker appointed by the Base/Wing Commander or CO, who serves as the focal point for coordinating education and interventions in the matter of family violence.

Contact your local Health Services to be put in touch with your local Family Crisis Team.



  • 4.30. As a Morale and Welfare Services initiative, this team of trained professionals provides a wide range of services to the extended military community, including counselling, referrals, information on programs and services and crisis support.



  • 4.31. To submit a formal complaint, consult with a Unit Workplace Relations Advisor (WRA) [2], a resource for either a complainant or a respondent. They can provide assistance on policy and process interpretation, but do not get involved in the particulars of a complaint. If you are not comfortable with your unit Workplace Relations Advisor, you can seek advice from a Workplace Relations Advisor at another unit or a CCMS agent.


  • 4.32. Harassment Advisors (HA) and Labour Relations Officers (LRO) play a key role in advising the Commanding Officer (Responsible Officer (RO)) when dealing with harassment complaints. The HA advises the RO when a complaint involves CAF members and the LRO advises the RO when a complaint involves DND employees. The HA is also the advisor for the coordination of harassment and prevention programs within their unit.


  • 4.33. CAF members or former CAF members who suffered an injury or illness as a result of sexual misconduct while serving should contact VAC to discuss benefits and options to ensure continuing support post-release.




  • 4.34. The Respect in the CAF app includes downloadable tools, educational information, and resources to support anyone who is responding to an incident of sexual misconduct.
  • 4.35. It can offer the location and directions to the closest military and civilian resources by using your mobile’s location, while still retaining your privacy and confidentiality.
  • 4.36. It directs users to both military and civilian resources.


  • 4.37. Anyone who needs help responding to an incident of sexual misconduct including affected persons in crisis.
  • 4.38. Anyone who is supporting an affected person but is not sure what to do next.
  • 4.39. All members of the Canadian Armed Forces and civilians looking for support and guidance.


  • 4.40. It is a tool kit that you carry around discreetly on your mobile device at home or on deployment internationally.
  • 4.41. It is a free download from your mobile device’s app store – Android, iOS, or BlackBerry.
  • 4.42. To download the app, go to:

CAF mobile app page:






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