Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?

How to Report Sexual Assault and Abuse

Explore your options in both criminal and civil courts after experiencing sexual assault or abuse. This comprehensive guide provides step-by-step advice on how to report sexual assault, understand the legal processes involved, and access available support resources.

Key Takeaways

  • Individuals who experience sexual assault can report it through various channels, such as law enforcement, online platforms, or by filing a civil lawsuit
  • When reporting to law enforcement, the state prosecutor, not the individual, determines the feasibility of pressing charges and seeking a conviction based on the investigation
  • Many survivors opt for alternative reporting methods outside the criminal justice system, including online platforms, government tiplines, or civil lawsuits against the perpetrator or enabling institutions

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.

RAINN counselors can talk you through what happened and provide you with local resources to assist in your healing and recovery. Many nursing homes have sexual assault protocols for abuse complaints.

What Happens After Contacting the Police?

Victims who decide to report the assault to police over the phone will have a local patrol car sent to help them. The officer will file an initial report using their name and the cause of the call. If the victim is in immediate danger, the police officer will take them to a safe place, such as the police station.

After the initial report is filed, a supervisor at the precinct will review it and assign it to detectives. The detectives will need to speak with the victim to get as much detail as possible. Questions will be asked to determine how the assault occurred and if there was premeditation involved, such as grooming behavior, coercion, or threats.

The state of the victim will also be reported, including any trauma or post-assault behavior. This can include physical changes such as weight loss or gain, emotional abnormalities, and any changes in daily routines or work performance.

Last Date Modified
February 26, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

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?

Victims 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.

What Occurs During the Process of Filing a Police Report for Sexual Assault or Abuse

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.