What Happens When You Report to the Police?
This is a question that came to my mind so many times before I actually reported a sexual assault. No matter how much research, I could never find a real, solid answer to what the process actually involved. So, this is my shot at taking you through what happened in my personal process, the basic stages of reporting, and what being a ‘victim’ within a police investigation in the UK constitutes.
Whether you want to report to the police or not is only YOUR decision. You know what is right, so trust yourself. I’m writing this to provide you with the fullest picture of what may happen if you do report to the police. I am also only speaking from my experiences and there will be variations between individual cases.
NB: there are some parts of my investigation that I can’t yet fully talk about as it is ongoing, and for the sake of my open case I have to keep some things confidential, but as soon as I am able to, I will be sharing some of that important information to LCA too.
Contact an organisation. You can call rape crisis, or Havens for the London area, and they will listen to you and help you decide/plan what to do next. You might speak to a switch board operator first who will ask you what you need and what sort of service you’re looking for. I called the Havens, and they’re open 24/7, so if you need urgent advice or need to book an appointment to see a specialist, call them (if in London) or Rape Crisis for elsewhere in the UK (both of these organisations numbers are at the bottom of this article, and there are other specialist organisations too, which you can find on the Contacts section). To note, the Havens only sees people up to a year after the assault happened. Most others help people whenever they decide to look for professional help.
You can also go straight into a police station and report it there, but I would highly recommend going to a space (one of the centres) where there are more people to professionally support you and offer you long-term help.
Visit an organisation in person. You can go into see a specialist and they will talk to you about what happened, they will make a file for your case and will write down some of your information. They will then explain to you the options you have next. If you do decide you want to report to the police, you can choose to do so either anonymously or named. The centre can report for you if you want to remain anonymous, which you might choose if you just want it to be filed as an assault occurrence in the system. You will be organised an appointment to see a police officer (a SOIT - sexual offences investigative technique) at a time that suits you.
Physically reporting - first police meeting. You can see the police officer either in the rape crisis centre itself or in a police station. You will meet them whenever suits you (usually within working hours, unless you are reporting immediately after the crime to a normal PO’s) and you can choose to have an ISVA (independent sexual violence advocates), a chaperone you know, and/or one of the team members at the Havens who’ve been helping you. The team member will talk to you individually before to make sure you are ok and that you feel safe, and they can give you advice about any questions you have or anything you may be worried about. You will then go into a room with either one or two SOIT’s, and whoever else you wish to have there with you.
What actually happens in the report. At this first stage you will give an initial reporting statement which they will write down. They will ask you to tell them what happened and basic information about the nature of the crime and who the accused is, who any witnesses are etc. You will give a lot of information but at this stage you do not have to go completely in depth and it doesn’t matter if you forget to mention some things (this part will come at a later stage). They will give you a Crime Reference Number and will share with you details of next steps and contact information. It will last for around an hour or two, depending on the length or detail of this first reporting statement. You can also ask to only interact with female or male officers throughout the course of the investigation. The Havens team will make sure you’re okay and recommend that you have someone meet you afterwards, and then that you have a relaxing rest of the day. I also highly recommend this, as reporting is an extremely draining and re-traumatising experience and you deserve some extra self care after taking this big step!
Video statement/written statement. Your victim statement is what will be used in the investigation and what will be used in court as your evidence. It is recorded on DVD’s and is stored in high security throughout the whole process. You can give your witness/victim statement as a video or as a written statement. It is highly recommended (and I agree) that survivors opt to do the video interview. With a written statement, the survivor/victim has to go in multiple times to be interviewed by SOIT’s/detectives, and they will have to recount their experience multiple times. This is usually a very triggering ordeal, and the video statements were introduced so victims don’t have to endure this. The video statement is a recorded piece where you will be interviewed by your SOIT in a police station. This sounds scary, and it is pretty damn scary, but the room you are recorded in is a comfortable environment. There are sofas, lots of cushions and the classic box of tissues for if/when you cry. You can also bring in any comforters you want, you can wear whatever you want, you can take off your shoes etc. You don’t even really notice the cameras at all, as they are small CCTV cameras in the corners of the room. Your SOIT will ask you to recount your experience as much as you remember in as much detail as possible. There will be a detective in an adjacent room who handles the recording equipment and keeps the area safe and quiet. Your SOIT will listen to you and will ask you a few questions about your statement. To warn, they mask ask a few uncomfortable questions, but they clarify they only do this so that the defence can’t ask them in a courtroom atmosphere if the case were to go to court.
When you have completed the interview/statement you will sign some forms consenting to their use in the investigation. You will then go out into the world again - I highly recommend having someone there to meet you afterwards, whether it’s a friend, a partner or a family remember. I think I went to watch a film at the cinema after having a nice lunch with my partner. You definitely deserve to be kind to yourself that day! You will also likely be exhausted, so stay in bed for as long as feels right.
- Also, to note, you CAN go to the bathroom during the statement! I went half way through and they just leave the tape running and clarify nothing else was talked about outside the interview room.
Witness statements. At this stage the police will collect statements from others involved with the crime. If you have witnesses to the crime, or if you told someone directly after (I think they’re called something like your first contact?) they will be asked in to give witness statements, and you will be asked to provide their contact details so the police can contact them. They do not have to provide a statement, however.
The accused will also be contacted at this stage. If they have previous felonies on their record they will be arrested and brought into questioning. If it’s a first formal offence they will be asked to come in for questioning, but if they refuse or leave during the questioning they can and will be arrested. They will then be released on caution. They will be told not to make any contact with you, either personally or through a third party (i.e. asking one of their friends to contact you). If they do so, you must tell the police/your officers and they will be told again not to contact you. If they do so again you can get a restraining order against the perpetrator/s of this harassment.
Evidence collecting. This stage can take several months. If you went to the hospital and have a rape kit this will be tested in labs, along with other physical items that may be used as evidence, which can take a long time, especially if in London (I’ve heard times from between 4 months to 9 months). If evidence is successfully found this will be used in the investigation.
Other evidence, such as text messages and other data from phones and rape counselling notes (i.e. if you had counselling directly from a centre), can be used in the investigation. You can consent not to provide this evidence, or to partially omit, but the police recommends you give consent to them being taken for full transparency. I have many negative and angry opinions about this part of the investigation, which I will not state here for the sake of keeping this piece mostly informational, but I’m sure you can guess how I feel about these actions. Just know that if you do not want to consent to these actions, you do not have to, and they cannot demand them from you.
Chance of withdrawal. The previous stage is often very long and painful, and I am sorry if you are at this stage and feeling constantly re-traumatised. It is important to inform you that you can withdraw your statement at any time. This does NOT mean retracting it (i.e. claiming the crime didn’t happen), but simply means your statement will not be used in the ongoing investigation, and thus the case will not have the possibility of going to court at this time. If you withdraw you can reopen your investigation at any point in the future, and the accused will also be informed of this future possibility.
Conclusion of investigation. The police will collect all the evidence and send the compiled case to senior detectives. They will then decide if there is enough evidence to send the case to CPS (crown prosecution service) for consideration of whether the case will go to trial at court. It would be the CPS, as opposed to smaller courts of law, due to the seriousness of the crimes. If you have endured through the whole process and the investigation concludes, you will either be told that it is not going to court/CPS because of lack of evidence, or you will be told that it is going to court.
I have not yet gotten to this stage, so I cannot speak further of confident information beyond this point. However, I know that if the case doesn’t go to the CPS or court, you will be reminded that it is not because they ‘don’t believe you’ but because of lack of evidence meaning a conviction is highly unlikely. This is still very tough news to hear, and you are completely valid in feeling that your experiences have been doubted/not believed. You can also appeal your case if you believe it needs review, with the chance of it then going to court.
If you decide to report a sexual crime to the police, I hope this information has helped you gain a better picture of what really happens in that process. Know that there are organisations that can help you, and that you have a support system to help you if things are getting hard.
Your decision to report is yours and yours alone. If it doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to do it. If you want to withdraw half way through, that is okay. If you get to the police station and just can’t go through with it, that is also okay. If you go through the whole process and it doesn’t go to court, that is painful and awful but it is NOT your fault.
You will do what is right for you, and that is all that matters.
If you want to talk to someone further either call Rape Crisis UK on 0808 802 9999 (12 noon - 2.30pm and 7 - 9.30pm every day of the year), The Havens (London) on 020 3299 6900 or visit your closest police station if you want to go direct to the police.
If you want to know more about reporting historical (e.g. child) sexual abuse see this other contributors advice.