One common question is whether a victim of sexual assault has the authority to withdraw the charges.  In the Canadian criminal court system, a victim is viewed as a witness to a crime, with the ultimate decision whether to prosecute criminal charges, lying with the Crown Attorney.

Factors Influencing the Crown’s Decision

  • Reluctance to testify:

  1. If a victim expresses discomfort about testifying, the Crown will assess their ability to testify.
  1. The Crown may not drop the charge unless there is substantial evidence that testifying would be psychologically damaging or impossible for the victim.
  • Medical Evidence:

  1. Situations where the victim has medical evidence indicating severe psychological harm if they are forced to testify in court,  may lead to a withdrawal of the charges.
  • Cumulative Factors:

  1. The Crown might consider withdrawing charges if the victim experiences a cumulative combination of factors, such as extreme nervousness, devastation, and significant stress.

Crown’s Decision-Making

  • Assessment of Impact:

  1. The Crown weighs the potential psychological damage to the victim against the need for prosecution in serious cases like sexual assault.
  • Proceeding Despite Victims’ Wishes:

  1. In many cases where a victim expresses a desire for a charge to be withdrawn,  the Crown may decide to proceed with the case,  unless the victim provides compelling reasons to drop the charges.

Additional Resources


While a victim’s wishes are carefully considered, the decision ultimately rests with the Crown Attorney. In cases of serious criminal offences like sexual assault, where the potential for psychological harm is significant, the Crown may opt to withdraw charges if testifying poses a genuine threat to the victim’s well-being.

For more insights into legal matters, explore our informative video resources.

Video Transcription: I’m often asked whether a victim of sexual assault is allowed to go to the Crown Attorney and say, “Look, I really don’t want to proceed with this charge.” It’s a really loaded question to answer and it really breaks down to this:  first of all, for any crime including sexual assault, our Canadian criminal court system, really considers a victim to be a mere witness to a crime. Yes, they are a victim and have certain rights, but ultimately the Crown Attorney is in charge of whether the prosecution goes forward.So, for example, if a victim tells the prosecutor, “Look, I’m just uncomfortable with this charge going to court and having to testify.”  The crown would ask them, “Well, are you able to testify?” and if the answer is yes, the Crown Attorney would probably not drop the charge. A sexual assault victim’s reluctance or discomfort about the prospect of testifying at the accused’s trial needs to rise to a level where the person has medical evidence that it’s really going to be psychologically damaging or impossible for them to testify. They just can’t go through with testifying for various reasons which would seriously compromise their mental health.  The Crown Attorney might consider withdrawing the charge, for example, where there is a cumulative combination of factors such as:   they are too nervous; they are too devastated; the thought of testifying is ruining their life essentially and they are experiencing so much stress and anxiety that they simply are not able to testify.So that is the answer to this question. It really depends on the situation, but there are many cases where a victim might tell the Crown that they want the charges to be withdrawn, but in the vast majority of those cases the Crown will decide to proceed despite the wishes of the victim.  There are serious criminal cases such as a sexual assault where there is potential for psychological damage if the complainant is required to testify and the Crown may very well decide to withdraw the charges. I have been involved in many cases in my career where the victim was ultimately not capable of testifying for valid personal reasons and the Crown dropped the charges. So, this is the short answer to the question whether a victim of sexual assault is in charge of the decision to withdraw a sexual assault charge.
By Published On: July 20, 2023Last Updated: November 27, 2023Categories: Sexual Assault, Video

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