Reporting to the police

Whether you report to the police or not is always your choice.

If you do choose to report to the police have some information about the process below. Please be aware that this is just an overview of what to expect and it isn’t legal advice.

Also, Rights of Women have produced a handbook for adult survivors called From Report to Court, which you might find useful. It provides a detailed guide on the whole process, from deciding whether or not to report, to the investigation stages and courtroom procedures.

Getting support from our advocacy service

If you do decide to speak to the police, you might want to speak to our advocacy service about your rights, options and what to expect.

We have specialist support workers called Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) and Children and Young People’s Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ChISVAs). ISVAs work with adult survivors, aged 19 years and over. ChISVAs work with survivors aged 18 years and under.

They can provide you with independent advice and information about reporting to the police and the criminal justice system as well as practical advice and help to access other available support services.

You do not have to report to the police to get support from an ISVA or ChISVA.

Find out more about our advocacy service here.

Reporting a crime in the UK

How do I report to the police?

You can call 101 to speak to your local police force (or 999 if you are in danger or it’s an emergency) and tell them you are calling to report a sexual offence.

You may wish to speak to a female officer if that would make it easier for you.

You can also go to your local police station in person, if you prefer.

If you were recently raped or assaulted

Please look at our guidance for more information and advice for those who have recently been raped or assaulted.

This includes details about visiting a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) for a forensic medical examination, collection of physical evidence and giving an initial account of what happened.

If you were raped or assaulted more than a week ago

There is no time limit on when you can report to the police. Even if it happened a long time ago, you can still go to the police if you want to.

If it happened more than a week ago, you may not need to visit the SARC for a forensic medical examination to collect physical evidence.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t evidence. Your account of what happened is also evidence.

The police should still investigate what you report, no matter when the abuse happened.

What happens after I report?

Once you have reported to the police, they will take an initial account and then arrange a time for you to provide a full statement. This can be recorded and used as evidence later on, if your case goes to court.

This should take place in private and you can choose to speak with male or female officers. You can ask to have someone with you when you speak to the police – this can be an ISVA or ChISVA, if you choose.

When giving a statement to the police, try not to leave anything out, however embarrassing or painful it might be. If you can’t remember something, it’s okay to say so. Police officers that investigate sexual offences should be specially trained and so are aware that there may be aspects of what has happened that you will find particularly difficult to talk about.

The police will then start their investigation.

Will my case go to court?

There are no guarantees that if you report something to the police, the perpetrator will go to court or get a prison sentence.

Once the police finish their investigation, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will review the case and decide there is enough evidence and it is ‘in the public interest’ to charge the suspect. This means the case may go to court.

This doesn’t happen in all cases. If the police and CPS don’t think their is enough evidence, or that it isn’t in the public interest, they may not charge the suspect. This means the case will be closed and doesn’t go to court.

Your ISVA or ChISVA will be able to give your support throughout the process and after, no matter what happens.

The process, from report to court, can take a long time. Sometimes two years or more.

Reporting a crime abroad

If you usually live in the UK and have been raped or sexually assaulted in another country, you can report 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.

Reporting whilst still in the country where it happened

If you are still in the country where it happened, the most important thing is to make sure you are safe.

If you feel at risk, you can get help from the local police or British Embassy. The Embassy can provide medical and legal help if needed, including telling you which hospitals have English-speaking doctors. All their offices have a voicemail with an emergency out-of-hours telephone number, or you can call +44 (0)20 7008 1500.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides information for British nationals impacted by sexual violence abroad, including how to access medical treatment and legal advice in the UK. They also offer ‘Rape and sexual assault abroad’ guides by country.

The Rape Crisis Network Europe has contact information for specialist support services in a number of European countries.

In some counties, you need to report the crime before leaving the country if you want it to be investigated. If you wait until you’ve returned to the UK to report the crime, the police in the other country might not be able to open a criminal investigation.

If you do choose to report to the police whilst you are still in the country where it happened, 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 some things considered a crime in the UK are not a crime in other countries.

Getting medical treatment

If you need medical treatment abroad, you may need to give details of your travel insurance policy and, in Europe, your UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC or EHIC).

When you get home, it is a good idea to book an appointment with your local Integrated Contraception and Sexual Health (iCASH) clinic to discussed emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Reporting once you’re home

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 and a good solicitor in the UK can help you with this.

If you reported the assault to police abroad, where judicial authorities share information with the UK, the FCDO can update you with any developments in your case if it goes to trial.

Reporting when back in the UK

It’s very normal to wait until some time after the assault has occurred before your feel ready to report it to the police.

If you do want to report to the police 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.

If you think you might want to report when you get back to the UK, you can keep the clothes your were wearing at the time of the attack in a clean plastic bag without washing them. It can also help to write down anything you 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 concerned about your safety. If your attacker harasses or threatens you when you are back in the UK, this is a crime and can be report 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) then UK police forces may be able to prosecute for a serious sexual offence committed outside the UK under Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. You local police force should be able to advise you about this in more detail.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides information for British nationals impacted by sexual violence abroad and have returned to the UK.