What to do if you want to report sexual assault to the police
You may decide you want to report the sexual assault or sexual abuse to the police. This is an individual decision which only you can make.
Some of the reasons why people choose to go to the police are:
- They want to feel believed.
- They want to feel empowered.
- They don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
- They want justice.
- They want to let the offender know that what they did was wrong.
People also choose not to go to the police. This is a personal choice which may be because:
- They think they will not be believed.
- They feel humiliated or guilty.
- They think it’s their fault.
- They know the person who assaulted or abused them.
- The person who assaulted or abused them has threatened them if they told anyone.
- They are afraid to go to court.
You can choose the following
- You can choose to say nothing.
- If you are unsure about reporting, you can speak to the police informally, either on the telephone or in person. The police will tell you about your options, but they will not do anything unless you want them to.
- You can make an informal report. This means the police will write down what happened, and you sign a statement saying that you do not want the matter investigated.
- You can make a formal statement. This means a full report of the incident is typed and signed by you when you are satisfied with the contents. A report can take several hours to complete. The police will then investigate the incident. If you change your mind later you must tell the police as soon as possible. However, if the police have already charged someone, you cannot withdraw your statement. During the investigation the police might ask you to take them to the place where you were assaulted so they can gather evidence. They may also interview any witnesses to the assault.
The court process
In Western Australia sexual assault and sexual abuse are ‘crimes against the state’. This means the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions decide whether they have sufficient evidence to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that a crime has occurred. If you make a formal statement to the police, you become a witness to the crime. The police or the Director of Public Prosecutions decides whether they have enough evidence to ‘press charges’. If the police do not lay charges it does not mean that they do not believe you. Sometimes there is not enough evidence for charges to be laid. This can leave people feeling disillusioned and denied justice. It can help to talk about these feelings with a counsellor or advocate.
Going to court can make you feel empowered, but it can also be a confusing and frightening experience. You can talk to someone at Victim Support Services (external site) to get information about the court proceedings. Victim Support Services also have support workers who can go to court with you.
Trials usually take place in the District Court, unless the offender is under 18 years of age. It can take up to 2 years between the time of the initial report to the police and the trial. Some cases do not go to trial because there is not enough evidence. This does not mean that you were not believed.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, people often feel better knowing that they were able to speak out about their experience, even if the verdict is 'not guilty'.
SARC staff respect and support any decision you make, regardless of whether you decide to go to the police or not.
Where to get help
Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC)
- 24 hour emergency line for recent sexual assault – phone 9340 1828 or 1800 199 888 (free from land line only)
- Emergency telephone counselling between 8.30am and 11.00pm daily – phone 9340 1828
- In an emergency situation, go to the nearest hospital emergency department
- See your doctor
Sexual Assault Resource Centre
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.