Reporting sexual assault to the police can be difficult.
If you wish to report an assault to the police, your local Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) can help and support you in your dealings with the criminal justice system.
Visit this link to find out more about the closest SARC to Cambridge.
We believe that survivors should be free to define their experience however they feel most comfortable.
Reporting sexual assault
Detailed below is an explanation of everything you can expect if you report the incident to the police.
Hopefully it will help you to feel more comfortable if you understand exactly what the procedure will be.
Talking to the police
They will take your allegation seriously.
An officer specially trained to deal with sexual assault cases will be contacted as soon as you report your assault.
You can tell them anything you want and it is confidential; you can withdraw anything you have said.
Making a statement
This carries evidential status, ie. everything in it can be heard in a courtroom.
If you are uncomfortable with anything you've stated in it, do not sign it and ask to make a new one.
The more you say, the better the case against your attacker will be.
Your personal details such as date of birth and occupation will not be disclosed to the court, your your name and address will be disclosed (unless you are anonymised eg. if you are under 18).
The police may ask you for a video-recorded interview instead of a statement - it is up to you whether you agree, a video statement provides more evidence to be used in court.
Reporting to the police
Dial 101 or 999 (either are fine, 999 preferable in an emergency).
Approach a police officer on duty.
Go into a police station (check opening hours).
If the assault happened in the last 7 days, there may be evidence on your body.
If you haven't washed since the assault it is more likely that this evidence can be found, but it's still possible even if you have washed and/or a few days have passed.
Samples, photos and medical examinations are all voluntary, so you can choose what, if anything, you want to provide.
The more physical evidence you can provide, the more likely it is for there to be a conviction.
You can leave or stop talking to the police at any time.
If it is not safe for you to go home, the police will organise a place of safety where you can stay.
What happens to your attacker
If you name them, the police will arrest them immediately.
If you don't know their name, the police will try as hard as they can to find out who they are.
Waiting for the trial
The police will give you a contact number for an organisation which supports survivors of sexual assault.
You will also be given the contact number for the police officer in charge of your case - this is so you can talk about how the case is going and let them know if you have any more evidence.
Charging your attacker(s)
If the police have enough evidence and if they believe there is a reasonable prospect of conviction, they will charge your attacker.
Your attacker's legal representative will discuss the evidence with your attacker and they will decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty.
Your attacker may be kept in prison, or released on bail. Part of their bail may be that they cannot speak to you or visit your address.
If your attacker pleads guilty, the case will move straight to sentencing as soon as possible, normally a few weeks or a month or two. You can go and sit in the public gallery if you want to, but you don't have to be there at all.
If your attacker pleads not guilty, the case will go to trial. The police will send you a letter telling you the date of the trial, and which court it will be heard in. You will probably be asked to attend on one of the days to give your evidence to the court.
Going to court
The trial may be held in a Magistrates' Court, which can be found in most towns. It could also be heard in a Crown Court if it is considered particularly serious. Normally, the court which hears the case will be in the area where the assault occurred. You will have to make your own way to the court.
Witness Support will tell you which, if any, days you will be required to come to court to give evidence.
You can also attend court on the other days and watch the trial from the public gallery.
You can bring one or a few friends or relatives to support you, and they can sit in the public gallery too, although they cannot join you in the witness box if you are giving evidence in the case.
Court proceedings usually begin from between 9-10am, and end around 4-6pm. Courts do not sit on Saturdays and Sundays.
The court will break for a lunch hour, and also may take breaks at other points in the day.
If you are sitting in the public gallery, you must be quiet and your phone should be switched off. You can come and go in and out of the courtroom whenever you like.
In a Crown Court courtroom there will be a judge and a jury. In a Magistrates' Court courtroom there will be three lay magistrates and their legal advisor. The jury and magistrates are fact-finders, whilst the judge and the legal advisor help them with the technicalities of the law. The judge in a Crown Court also manages the case, deciding what evidence can be admitted and when the court should retire.
For a sentencing hearing, the judge or the magistrates determine sentence.
Also present in the courtroom will be legal representatives for your attacker and those prosecuting on behalf of the state. Court staff such as ushers, other witnesses, and members of the public will be in the gallery.
Your attacker will sit behind a glass screen, and may or may not be accompanied by police, depending on whether they have been granted bail or remanded in custody.
During the proceedings, your attacker may be referred to by his name, or as 'the Defendant'. You will be referred to by your name or as 'the Complainant'.
You will give your evidence by answering questions put to you by the legal professionals. They are referred to as 'counsel', and are barristers or solicitor-advocates.
The prosecuting counsel is not 'your' barrister, but represents the state and is responsible for presenting the evidence against your attacker.
They will go first, and start by asking you some simple questions like confirming your name and address to the court.
Then they will ask you some open-ended questions, taking the court through what happened before, during and after your assault. They may ask you other questions as well which may not seem relevant. They want you to give evidence well so are likely to question you in a friendly way. They are likely to ask you about how you felt, and how you feel now.
The defence counsel is responsible for presenting the evidence of your attacker. They may suggest to you that you are lying or remembering things incorrectly.
This is not a personal attack, but part of their job.
Their questions will not be open-ended, but will be answerable with 'yes' or 'no'. Feel free to say if you don't know an answer or you would like the question repeated. The questioning may be less friendly, but if it gets too aggressive you can ask for a break. The judge may also intervene if the defence counsel is making you uncomfortable.
Your attacker, even if representing themselves, is not permitted to question you as a witness. There is also a rule against questions pertaining to your sexual history, although there is an exception in some cases and you may be asked this sort of question by the defence counsel. This will only be allowed if it is relevant to your attacker's defence story
After the defence counsel 'cross-examines' you, the prosecuting counsel may have more questions, or you may be told that you have finished giving evidence.
Whilst giving evidence, you can ask for a break, or water or tissues at any time.
If the court thinks it will help you give evidence, they may use a 'special measure'.
This can include screening you from your attacker whilst you give evidence, allowing you to give your evidence from another room over a video-link, or clearing the public gallery.
After your evidence
When you have finished giving evidence, you can step down from the witness box or leave the room - you are free to leave the court. If you wish, you can sit in the public gallery to watch the rest of the proceedings.
At the end of the trial, the jury or magistrates will deliver their verdict of 'guilty' or 'not guilty'.
If you did not stay to watch, Witness Support will notify you of the outcome.
If found guilty, your attacker may be kept in prison or released on bail to wait for their sentencing hearing, which you can attend if you wish and watch from the public gallery. This is normally arranged for a few weeks after the verdict is delivered.
If found not guilty, your attacker will be free to leave. This does not mean the jury or magistrates did not believe what you said, but it means they didn't feel totally sure that there was enough evidence against them..
'Beyond reasonable doubt' is the benchmark of the UK criminal justice system to ensure that innocent people do not get convicted.
Your attack still happened and it is not your fault that the prosecution was not able to secure a conviction.
If found guilty, your attacker may be given any of the following types of sentence:
- A fine, either paid directly to the state or to you.
- A community order, such as unpaid work.
- A suspended prison sentence, which will be activated if your attacker reoffends within a certain time (probably about a year).
- A prison sentence.
Materials created by Amy Oliver 12.08.15