If you usually live in the United Kingdom and have been raped or sexually assaulted in another country, you can report it while you’re still in the country, or you can report when you come home. It’s important to know that some countries will not be able to investigate if you wait until you return to the UK to report, depending on the laws in that country.
At Cambridge Rape Crisis, we understand that some people want to report what happened to the police, either in the UK or in the country where it happened, while some people don’t want to tell anyone. You may report because you hope you’ll see your attacker brought to justice. On the other hand, you may not feel that you can cope with the complex police and legal procedures which would follow, especially because the assault took place abroad. This includes possible language difficulties, a different legal system, expense and other practicalities.
Reporting while abroad
If you are still in the country where it happened, the most important thing is to make sure that you are safe. If you feel you are at risk, you can get help from the police, a hospital or the local British Consulate or Embassy as soon as you are able to. The Embassy can provide medical and legal help if needed, including telling you which hospitals have English-speaking doctors. All their offices have an answerphone with an emergency number outside of office hours, or you can call +44 (0)20 7008 1500.
The Rape Crisis Network Europe has contact information for specialist support services in various European countries.
In some countries, you need to report the crime before leaving the country if you want it to be investigated. If you wait to report the crime on return to the UK, the police in the other country might not be able to open a criminal investigation. If you do choose to report to the police while you are still abroad, the British Embassy can give advice on local police and legal procedures, as these can often be very different to those in the UK. They can also put you in touch with local lawyers and interpreters. Be aware that cultural and social attitudes to rape and sexual assault survivors can be very different in different countries, and can mean that some things considered a crime in the UK are not a crime in other countries.
If you need medical treatment abroad, you may need to give details of your travel insurance policy and, in Europe, your European Health Insurance Card number. When you get home, it is a good idea to book an appointment with your local iCaSH clinic to check for sexually transmitted diseases.
If you have reported to the police abroad, you will then need to report to your local police on your return, as they may be involved in handling any legal papers. All papers for the prosecution will have to be in the local language of the country where the attack took place. A good solicitor in the UK can help you with this.
Once you are home, you can contact the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) for updates on the case. The FCO leaflet Rape and sexual assault abroad will give you more information on accessing help and reporting while abroad.
Reporting when home
It is very normal to wait until some time after the attack has occurred before you feel ready to report it to the police. If you do want to report it after you get home, you can talk to your local police force who should be able to tell you what action they may be able to take and what options may be available to you. They won’t be able to investigate the crime themselves or ask that the crime be investigated, but can pass the information on to the authorities where it happened. They will also be aware of local support organisations, such as Cambridge Rape Crisis.
If you think you might want to report to the police when you get back to the UK, you can keep the clothes you were wearing in a bag without washing them. It can help to write down anything you can remember about what happened including, if possible, a description of the attacker.
If your attacker is also a UK resident, the police will not be able to investigate as the crime occurred overseas, but you can speak to a lawyer about getting an injunction to protect yourself if you are worried about risk. If your attacker harasses or threatens you when you are back in the UK, this is a crime and can be reported to the police.
If you are under 18 and the suspect is a UK national (or UK resident, and the act is criminal in the country where it was committed) UK police forces may be able to prosecute the suspect in the UK for a serious sexual offence committed outside the UK under Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Your local police station should be able to advise you about this in more detail.
The FCO has further information about what to do if you have been assaulted overseas and have returned to the UK here.
No matter where the crime happened, how long ago, or whether you choose to report it or not, Cambridge Rape Crisis is here to support you. The ISVA service can provide limited practical support around reporting a crime overseas, and our helpline and email services can give emotional support to help you process what has happened to you.