Reporting sexual assault to the police

Reporting sexual assault to the police

You need to think about whether you want to report the sexual assault to police. It is important that you make the decisions, rather than having them made for you.

Think through your options. You can get help from a Centre Against Sexual Assault or other support service.

You do not have to report the sexual assault immediately. You can take some time to decide what you want to do.

If you do not report to police you may not be able to get some forms of financial help, compensation and counselling.

If you report the assault to police

The sooner a crime is reported the easier it is for the police to investigate it. This can make it more likely for the person who sexually assaulted you to be charged and brought to court.

If you decide to report the sexual assault to police within three days of the sexual assault, a forensic medical examination may find evidence that will support what you are saying. In the case of a sexual assault by a stranger, an examination may also help to identify who the person is.

What police should do

The Victoria Police has a code of practice which lists what the police should do when investigating sexual offences. The aim of the code is to reduce the trauma of the investigation and court case for the victim.

Most police who work with sexual assault cases are from the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team. They have had special training to understand how sexual assault affects people.

You should get immediate crisis care after reporting a sexual assault to the police or at least within two hours of police arriving.

If a child is involved the police officer must notify the Department of Human Services, where this is needed.

Making a statement to police

The police will take a statement from you about your experience. This means going over every detail of the sexual assault. It can take a few hours. The police will use your statement, along with other things, to investigate the sexual assault. You can have a support person, such as a friend, with you during police interviews.

The officer should be the same sex as you and should let you describe what happened in your own words without interruption. You should be given a copy of your statement as soon as possible after it has been completed.

If you need extra help to make a report

Some people may face extra difficulties when they want to make a report to the police.

If your first language is not English, the police officer must arrange an interpreter of the same sex as soon as possible.

If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, police Aboriginal liaison officers will be involved where available. The police officer can also involve the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal service and Elizabeth Hoffman House if you want this to happen.

If you have a disability, the police officer must be aware that you may need help with communication and getting to and from police and medical facilities.

If you have a cognitive impairment an independent third person must be with you while you make a statement or recorded interview to the police. The Office of the Public Advocate may be able to help.

You can also get extra support from a Centre Against Sexual Assault or from another worker you feel comfortable with.

If you are not treated with respect, understanding and sensitivity

All police involved in the investigation of sexual assaults must be sympathetic and supportive. They should allow you as much control over the situation as possible so you can decide what happens next.

You can make a complaint about the police if you are unhappy with the way they have treated you. Get advice from a counsellor or advocate at a Centre Against Sexual Assault or a lawyer before deciding to complain.

Charges

The police must tell you if the perpetrator has been found or charged. They should regularly tell you what is happening, particularly when they interview the perpetrator or if they decide to stop the investigation.

If the police arrest and charge the perpetrator they may be held in custody or released on bail or summons. Bail or summons means they are released and must come to court on a particular date. The police must tell you the outcome of any bail application and any bail conditions that are meant to protect you from the perpetrator.

Many reports of sexual assault do not end up with the perpetrator being arrested and charged. This can happen even if you want the perpetrator charged.

If police decide not to lay charges it is usually because they:

  • could not work out who the perpetrator is
  • could not find the perpetrator
  • believe there is not enough evidence
  • cannot prove that sexual assault has happened.

It can be upsetting and frustrating if you report and the police decide not to lay charges. The police should tell you if they decide this. It is important to remember that this does not mean they do not believe you were sexually assaulted. You can ask the police to write down their reasons and send this to you.

The police will usually work closely with the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) to decide whether or not to charge the perpetrator. If the police decide not to charge the perpetrator, they can look at that decision. However, the OPP can only say that they think that charges should be laid. The police make the final decision. Sometimes the OPP will decide to directly charge someone in the County or Supreme court.

Time limits on reporting

You usually do not have to report the assault within a specific time for criminal charges to be made. If you were sexually assaulted as a child it is not unusual to report many years later. People can sometimes be charged with serious crimes many years afterwards.

Get legal help no matter when you were sexually assaulted.

Mandatory reporting

Mandatory reporting is when the law says something has to be reported. All adults share responsibility to make sure young people are safe from sexual assault. The law says that police, doctors, nurses, primary and secondary school teachers have to report cases of suspected sexual assault of people under 18.

Police must also be notified of a sexual assault where the person is:

  • in psychiatric care in a 24-hour residential setting
  • living in a residential service directly managed by the government.

Centre Against Sexual Assault do not have to report sexual assaults. However, their workers have a ‘duty of care’ to make a report to the police or child protection if they believe there is an ongoing risk to your safety or someone else’s safety. Generally they will talk to you about this. A duty of care means a relationship where one person has to care for another (such as a doctor and their patient).

If someone reports to the police that you have been sexually assaulted, you can still choose not to take part in the police investigation. In rare cases, the police may still prosecute the offender even if you do not want them to.

Deciding not to go ahead with the court case

After reporting to police you can decide not to go ahead with police involvement. Having a medical examination, making a statement and helping police with their investigation can be very upsetting. You can choose to make a statement that you wish no further action. You can do this at any stage of the investigation. Usually there will be no other police involvement once this statement has been made.

If the police think there is enough evidence to continue with the case, they can do so. You may then have to give evidence in court about what happened. However, it is rare for the police to do this if you do not want the court case to go ahead.

If you decide you no longer want the police involved you may not be able to get some types of financial help and compensation.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with sex and the law.