Many people do not report sexual assaults to the police. There is no time limit for reporting a sexual assault; some people come forward years later. However, the sooner you report a crime, the easier it can be for the police to investigate and find evidence to support your case. Note that if you change your mind, you can withdraw your complaint to the police.
Speaking to the police
Victims have a number of reporting options to consider, including:
- notifying the police of the assault, to provide them with information about an offender or an offence;
- notifying the police of the offence so that information may be recorded, in case a full statement might be made in future; and
- requesting that a Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) conduct a forensic medical examination to collect evidence; then the victim can defer their decision about whether or not to report the assault.
The first priority for police officers is to take care of the victim. If immediate medical attention is required, police officers should send the victim via ambulance to the nearest hospital emergency department and notify the forensic medical examiner and the nearest CASA. If a child is involved, police officers must notify the Victorian Government Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
After any injuries have been tended to, a police officer from the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (who is the same sex as the victim) will ask the victim for some brief details about what happened (e.g. the time and place of the incident, the number of offenders, a description of the offender(s), and details of any weapons used or threats made).
If the sexual assault just occurred, the police officer should advise the victim about forensic evidence and how it might be affected if they touch things, change clothes, shower, eat or drink. If the victim can’t wait to do these things, the police officer may ask them if they can collect some preliminary evidence themselves.
When it is appropriate, the police officer will take a detailed statement of the assault. A copy will be given to the victim.
If the victim:
- does not speak English, the police must arrange for an interpreter;
- has a cognitive impairment, an Independent Third Person must be with them when they are making their statement;
- is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, police officers from the Aboriginal Liaison Unit should be involved where possible;
- is under the age of 18 years, a parent or guardian should be present. If that isn’t appropriate (i.e. if they’re a witness, perpetrator or cannot be located within a reasonable amount of time), an Independent Third Person must be present while they’re making their statement.
In dealing with victims of sexual assault, police officers must abide by the Victims’ Charter Act 2006 (Vic), the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) and the Information Privacy Act 2000 (Vic).
If you have any concerns about how a police officer has treated a victim of sexual assault, see Chapter 12.6: Complaints against Victoria Police.
Investigating and laying charges
Police officers should maintain regular contact with the victim and ensure they are aware of support services, their right to apply for victims of crime compensation (see Chapter 10.6: Assistance for victims of crime) and what may occur at court.
A police officer must tell the victim if the accused has been found or charged. If the accused is held in custody and then released (either on bail or summons), a police officer must let the victim know.
If the police decide to not charge the accused, they must tell the victim why. Just because the police decide to not charge the accused, this doesn’t mean that they don’t believe the victim was assaulted. Victims can ask for more information about the police’s decision.
The victim must tell the police if they do not want to be involved in a police investigation. The police will consider the victim’s wishes but will ultimately make the final decision about whether to proceed and charge the accused. The police will consider:
- the seriousness of the offence;
- whether the offence is one of a series (e.g. committed by a ‘serial’ rapist);
- whether the case is easy to solve; and
- the priority of the complaint and the availability of police resources.