Reporting to Police
WHEN TO REPORT
If you plan to report your sexual assault to police, it is best to do it as soon as possible. This is especially important if any of the following are true:
- The assault happened within the last 10 days.
- You might be injured.
- You are in pain or discomfort.
- You might still have drugs or alcohol in your system.
- The person who assaulted you might hurt you or others in the future.
If any of these are true, please consider reporting your sexual assault to police as soon as you can. That way they can make sure you are safe, help you get medical care and other services, and collect any evidence that might be lost over time.
However, keep in mind: You can always tell police about a sexual assault no matter how much time has passed.
HOW TO REPORT
To report your sexual assault to police, you can call 911 or the non-emergency number for your local police department. They will ask you some basic questions, to find out who you are, where you live, and to determine whether an emergency response is needed. They will also evaluate whether you might need medical care, and whether the situation is safe – both for you, and for any responding officers.
You can also go to a police station, but keep in mind that officers are not always immediately available because they are often out in cars responding to calls. Police stations are also not typically open to the public after normal working hours.
If you decide to report your sexual assault, we recommend calling the police from a safe location where you can comfortably wait for a while. It could be several hours before an officer responds, depending on the type of assault you are reporting, how long ago it happened, whether you are in danger or need medical care, and how busy police are at that moment.
WHERE TO REPORT
If you were sexually assaulted in another city or state, you can either call the police department there, or you can call your local police department. They may be able to help figure out where your assault should be reported. They may also be able to take your information and record it for the other police department.
Whether your assault happened within a few hours, or up to 10 days ago, your local police department may also be able to help you get a medical forensic exam. You can go to the topic of medical forensic exams above to learn more.
Or you can go to the hospital without contacting police, but any potential evidence may need to be stored by the local police department before transferring to the city or state where you were assaulted.
SEEK THEN SPEAK
If you choose, you can use a program called SEEK THEN SPEAK to begin the process of reporting to police.
SPEAK will guide you through a series of questions, to gather critical information about your sexual assault. You can go through the questions at your own pace, taking as long as you need. You can take breaks whenever you want. You can remain You can also provide as much or as little information as you choose.
When you’re done going through the questions, the program will collect your responses in a PDF file. You can then download this PDF on your own device, and either:
- Save it for later
- Email it to someone (including yourself), or
- Print it out
If you decide to report your sexual assault to police, you can give them this PDF containing important information about what happened. Or you can contact police without going through SPEAK. The choice is yours.
If you are not yet ready to share your information but want to save it, you can upload it into a tool called VictimsVoice, where it will be securely stored until you are ready to release it. For more information, go to the VictimsVoice website.
TELL POLICE WHAT YOU NEED
When you contact police, make sure they know what language you primarily speak (including American Sign Language), so they can find an interpreter if needed.
This is also the time to let police know if you need an accommodation to talk with an officer, like a communication aid, assistive device, or personal assistant.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
After you contact police, they may send an officer out to talk with you. This officer will briefly interview you to determine what type of crime you are reporting, and identify possible suspects, witnesses, and any potential locations of evidence.
If you use SEEK THEN SPEAK to complete a report, this is the time to give the PDF to police. However, they might not know about this program, so you may need to explain it. The police officer will still need to ask you some questions about what happened to complete their report, but the PDF will give them information to start with.
If you give the PDF to police, it will become part of the official police record. This means police and prosecutors will be able to read it, and if the case ever goes to court, so will the defense attorney and the judge. That won’t happen right away, but it’s important to understand.
MEDICAL FORENSIC EXAM
The officer will also help decide whether a medical forensic exam is recommended, based on how long ago you were assaulted and what type of assault it was. If so, the police officer will typically take you to the hospital or exam facility. But you also have the option of driving there yourself, or riding with a friend or family member.
Remember, you can also have a medical forensic exam without reporting to police. Go to the topic of medical forensic exams above to learn more.
CRIME VICTIM RIGHTS
If you report to police, you have the right to ask any questions about what is happening during the investigation, and you can bring someone with you when you meet with an officer, whether it is a friend, family member, or victim advocate.
In some states, victims have a legal right to have an advocate or support person present during any police interviews. But even if state law doesn’t provide this right, you can ask for a victim advocate or support person to be there with you. Reporting to police also means you have certain legal rights as a crime victim.
Among other rights as a crime victim, you can apply for reimbursement of financial losses due to the crime, like missing or damaged property, missed work, termination of a rental agreement, or costs for medical care or counseling. However, there are some requirements to be eligible.
Victim advocates can help you learn more and apply if you are eligible.
Victim advocates can also help you file for a restraining order against the person who hurt you, if that option is available.
Restraining orders go by different names (including orders of protection or protective orders), but their purpose is to protect you from someone you have had a close personal relationship with who might cause you harm. They are issued by the court to prohibit a person from illegal behaviors like stalking, threats, assault, destroying personal property, or contacting you by phone, mail, or in person. Restraining orders can also include “stay away orders,” specifying that the person cannot visit your home, school, or workplace, or get within a certain distance of you.
Depending on the police department, you may be able to report your sexual assault anonymously – or you may be able to give police your name, but not begin a police investigation. You can ask a police officer or victim advocate about these options.
You will also want to find out if these options might mean you give up certain rights or benefits, like Crime Victim Compensation for any financial losses resulting from the assault.
After the police respond to your initial report, the typical next step is for an investigator (either a police officer or detective) to contact you to schedule a more detailed interview. This detailed interview might be a few days later.
If your report is investigated, an officer or detective will typically interview people, including anyone who may have witnessed events related to the assault, anyone you told about the assault, and the person or people who hurt you.
As the investigator learns more about the sexual assault, you may be contacted again for more information or to clarify something learned during the investigation.
The investigation may also include collecting other items, like physical objects (clothing, bedding, etc.) and digital information (text messages, cell phone records, security videos, etc.). Your cell phone might be needed temporarily, for police to gather information before returning it to you.
You don’t have to hand over these items, but they might lead to important evidence. Victim advocates can help you make decisions that are best for you.
The investigator will review the report from your medical forensic exam, if there is one, including photographs or body diagrams of any injuries that may have been taken.
The investigator will also run criminal history checks on people related to the sexual assault.
If you completed a report in SEEK THEN SPEAK, the investigator will also need to review that. Make sure they have a copy of the PDF, and if they don’t know about this program, you may need to explain it.
ARREST AND PROSECUTION
Once you report your sexual assault to police, and the report is investigated, the person who hurt you may or may not be arrested. The police refer to this person as a “suspect.”
After an investigation is conducted by police, your report may be referred to the prosecutor’s office, who will decide whether to charge the suspect with any crimes.
Keep in mind that reporting your sexual assault to police is not the same as “pressing charges.” Police and prosecutors, not victims, make decisions about whether charges will be filed. This decision is made later in the process, based on state law and the evidence collected, including information provided by victims and others.
WHAT INFORMATION IS SHARED?
If the suspect is charged with any crimes, the information you provide will be shared with others in the criminal justice system, including the defense attorney and judge in the case.
You can talk with the investigator before you begin sharing information about your sexual assault, to ask questions about what might happen with your information.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
We’ve already said it’s best to report your sexual assault as soon as you can. One reason is because each crime has a certain amount of time for the person who did it to be prosecuted. This is called the statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations varies by the type of crime and the state where it occurred. In general, there is a longer period of time allowed to prosecute more serious crimes. However, many states are getting rid of the statute of limitations for sexual assault. That means sexual assault victims can report the crime any time they are able to, and – if there is sufficient evidence – the suspect can be prosecuted, no matter how long ago the crime was committed.
There are also situations where the statute of limitations can be paused, for example when a suspect leaves the state to avoid an investigation and prosecution. These issues are complicated. Police and prosecutors will need to review the information you provide to determine whether the case can be prosecuted.
However, you can always report your sexual assault to police, regardless of how long ago it happened. Even if it can’t be prosecuted, police can often investigate a sexual assault that was committed weeks, months, or even years ago. They may also be able to use the information to help investigate another case, if the same person hurt someone else. Reporting also helps police have a better understanding of the full range of sexual assaults committed in the community.
REPORTING IS YOUR DECISION
This is a lot of information about reporting to police. We understand that figuring out what to do can be very difficult.
For some sexual assault survivors, reporting the crime can help them feel more in control over what is going on in their lives. For others, they do not need to report the crime to heal and move on. Everyone reacts differently, and that’s okay.
The goal of this site is to help you feel prepared with information and options, so you can make choices that are right for you. You can also discuss your options with a victim advocate.
Keep in mind that the information provided in this program is based on recommended practices for police and other professionals in the U.S.
Unfortunately, no one can make any promises about what will happen if you report your sexual assault to police or reach out for other types of help. Sometimes people make mistakes, or they don’t follow the practices outlined here. When that happens, you have the right to ask for more information. You can also contact a victim advocate for help.