Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

How to Report Sexual Assault & Rape

If you experienced sexual assault, you deserve to know how to report sexual assault to law enforcement and how survivors are involved in the criminal justice process.

Survivor Advocate

Key Takeaways

  • Survivors of sexual assault can take years to come forward and report to law enforcement for a variety of reasons including fear of retaliation or further harm
  • Individuals may choose to report sexual assault and rape to law enforcement, which can help create a paper trail to prevent future harm and lead to an investigation into the alleged perpetrator
  • After someone reports sexual assault, law enforcement will investigate based on available resources and applicable laws and a state prosecutor will determine if they can bring charges based on a variety of legal factors

When Should Sexual Assault and Abuse be Reported?

Ideally, any time that sexual assault or abuse occurs, it should be reported. However, many victims are reluctant to do so. They may feel that nothing can be done to stop it, or they may fear that their abuser could harm them in another way. Thus, they try to forget the event and move on.

Those who are subjected to sexual abuse by teachers and administration may feel a sense of shame or guilt. They may feel that they don’t have any choice but to stay with the abuser.

It’s not uncommon for victims to report sexual assaults months or years after they occurred, once they have had time to process what happened to them. Others may choose to never report the crime and may suffer the emotional and physical consequences on their own, never seeking treatment or therapy.

Ideally, all victims should report abuse to the authorities. It can also be helpful to speak to a trusted therapist or medical professional. A mental health professional can help victims begin to recover from the trauma and move forward.

Where and How Can a Victim Report Abuse?

Any victim can begin the process of reporting abuse to a local police agency over the phone or by visiting the station in person. Most police departments have officers who are trained to interact with victims of sexual assault. These individuals will be supportive of the victim and can help them to determine their next steps.

If the victim is uncomfortable going to authorities, they may reach out to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 800.656.HOPE. When you contact RAINN, you’ll be able to speak with counselors specially trained in supporting sexual assault and abuse survivors. They can let you know your local reporting options, including if you can report online or if they can connect you with a local organization who can have a trained advocate go with you when you report to law enforcement. 

Last Date Modified
May 17, 2024

If you are not sure where to turn, RAINN can help.

Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk confidentially with a trained professional from RAINN.

They can put you in touch with local resources and organizations that can help in your healing journey.

What Happens if the Victim Delays Reporting?

While individuals may delay reporting (or never report) to law enforcement for a variety of reasons, those who delay reporting the assault or abuse may not have as much evidence against the perpetrator as they would if they had reported it immediately after it occurred. Physical evidence, such as torn or bloody clothing or DNA evidence obtained during a bodily examination using a rape kit, will likely no longer be available if it has been several weeks or months.

In addition, delayed reporting can lead to memory loss surrounding the events that occurred. The victim may forget where the abuse happened or what transpired during the actual assault. If the perpetrator was unknown to the victim before the incident happened, they might not remember the perpetrator’s name or what they looked like. Memory loss can make it challenging to pursue a case beyond filing a report.

Most importantly, if an individual delays reporting for too long, the criminal statute of limitations may pass and the offense can not be criminally prosecuted. Each state has different laws regarding the criminal statute of limitations for each type of offense, and they may vary for child abuse victims or based on other circumstances surrounding the harm that happened and their ability to investigate. 

Reporting Sexual Abuse: Different Rights & Options

Reporting to law enforcement is only one reporting option for those impacted by sexual abuse, assault, or harassment.

Your rights and options often depend on the circumstances surround the abuse that happened such as how long ago it occurred, what state it occurred in, who the perpetrator was in relation to you, and if you were a minor and experienced child sexual abuse. 

To help individuals understand more of their rights and options related to specific types of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, we have created the following pages to help survivors find more relevant information. If you have questions, remember that you can always reach out to a hotline like RAINN if you are in need of immediate support or reach out to us at Helping Survivors if you’re seeking information on your reporting rights and options.

While the ability to pursue these options depends on the circumstances surrounding what happened, individuals can report sexual abuse in the following ways: 

  • Report to law enforcement: When someone typically thinks of “reporting” they think about reporting to law enforcement. Many people do not have a clear understand of the criminal legal process and the role of the victim of a crime within that process. Read this resource we’ve created to understand the process of  reporting to law enforcement and “pressing charges”.
  • Seek Protections in Family Court: If you are actively being harmed by a family member or domestic partner, you may be able to seek an order of protection against the individual. This helps document the abuse and can prevent the individual from contacting you amongst other remedies with potential punishment and fines for violating the order. Your local family court website should have links to nonprofits who can assist you with filing and answering questions.
  • Report to online platforms: If you believe someone is using online platforms to find victims to sexually assault, abuse, harass, or harm in any other way, you can report the indivdual to the platform following their procedures. Each platform has its own policies regarding user reports of alleged bad actors and you should follow all applicable polices and laws.
  • File a civil lawsuit: Over the last decade, there has been a rise in survivors filing lawsuits to seek justice and healing for what happened. Most sexual abuse lawsuits are filed against institutions who enabled perpetrators to cause harm even after victims reported such as hospitals, religious institutions, rideshare platforms, and workplaces. 

If you previously experienced harm and have questions regarding your rights and options, you can learn more below and contact us at Helping Survivors and a trained advocate will assist in answering your questions and sharing available resources. 

How Do I File a Police Report? Can I Press Charges?

During the interview, victims should expect very personal questions. Police officers will need to collect as much information related to the incident as possible in order to know how to proceed. Questions that they ask may be uncomfortable for the victim to answer, but doing so can lead to better information for the police to use in their investigation. It’s important for officers to remain supportive of the victim during the questioning process.

Individuals may feel more comfortable filing their report with an individual who is the same sex as they are. If they are assigned a detective and feel uncomfortable sharing personal details with them, they may ask for another officer. They may also ask for someone supportive to stay with them, such as a friend, family member, advocate, or support person.

What Happens After the Police Report is Filed?

After the interview occurs, law enforcement will review all of the information and evidence provided to find probable cause to make an arrest. Once the suspect has been identified, the investigation will include collecting evidence, locating the person, and interviewing them.

Police are not required to investigate police reports and are often limited due to resources and funding. Unfortunately, this means that the perpetrator may not have charges filed against them, be arrested, or convicted. It should be noted that an individual can not “press charges” against another individual and it is at the state (or federal government’s) sole discretion. 

However, if a survivor wants to report a crime, we recommend they do so even if they statute of limitations has expired and/or the police will not investigate. Filing a police report can create a vital paper trail for the victim and to prevent future harm to other victims, especially if others come forward. 

Want To Speak With A Lawyer?

Understand your legal rights and options as a survivor of sexual assault and abuse.