This information is addressed to the survivor of the sexual violence but it will also be helpful for family and friends.
The term sexual assault has been used to cover the range of adult sexual violence offences that can occur, including rape.
If these pages do not answer your question, please contact us and we will do our best to provide the relevant information.
I don’t know if what happened to me was a crime.
Crimes of a sexual nature are legislated under the Crimes Act 1961, section 128, which uses the term sexual violation.
Basically, any unwanted (non consensual) contact of a sexual nature is a crime.
The offender says I consented but that isn’t true.
If a prosecution is to occur then the police must prove the offender had no reason to think the victim had consented. However, the Act acknowledges that allowing sexual activity does not amount to consent in some circumstances. So it takes into account the application of force, the threat or fear of force (to the victim or to another person ie their child is threatened with harm if the person doesn’t acquiece); someone being asleep or unconscious; a person being so under the influence of alcohol or drugs they can’t give informed consent; intellectual, mental or physical conditions that would impair a person’s ability to give proper consent; mistaken identity; or a mistake about the nature or quality of the sexual activity (e.g. the victim may have consented to vaginal sex but not anal sex).
I was sexually assaulted by my partner is that still a crime?
A person may be convicted of sexual violation of another person at a time when they were married or in a long term relationship.
The sexual assault happened many years ago, can I still go to the police?
There is no statute of limitation on sexual offences. You can go to the police no matter how long ago the assault took place.
Should I report the assault to the police?
You are the only person who can decide whether to report the assault to the police. Certainly if you do not feel safe from the offender then the police may be able to help ensure your safety.
Often people don’t report a sexual assault at first because they are numb and embarrassed and may not wish family and friends to know. It is common to feel some guilt, to blame yourself or to fear that the assailant or his friends may harm you if you tell.
On the other hand, reporting the assault to the police may help you to accept the reality of a crime that has been committed against you and to realise that it is NOT your fault. It may not be the first time the assailant has assaulted someone and it probably will not be the last.
What if the police blame me for what happened?
There are police officers who are specially trained to talk to survivors and investigate adult sexual assault. They will take your report seriously.
The police understand that you may have needed to “co-operate” in some way with the assailant to prevent further injury. They also understand that alcohol or other drugs are often involved in sexual assaults. In neither case are you to blame or in any way responsible for the assault.
What will happen when I report the sexual assault to the police?
Police frequently need to ask questions that are challenging. A detective will ask questions about the time, place and details of the assault, including questions that may help the police to identify the person who attacked you.
It can take a number of hours to go through all of the details of the assault. This does not need to happen all in one go though. If you need to have a break, just ask.
Usually the police with take notes and draw-up a written statement of what you tell them. However, some stations also have video facilities and tape the interview (with the tape later forming part of the court evidence if your case proceeds). While this can sound worrying to some people, it can actually make the interview a lot easier and shorter.
If you go ahead with laying a formal complaint then the police will carry out a very careful and thorough investigation. This will involve speaking to possible witnesses and the alleged offender (if known).
Can a support person come with me to the police interview?
You can take a support person with you to the police station. The police will most likely talk together with you at first to explain what will happen in the interview but your support person may not be able to sit in with you during the actual interview. This can be discussed with the police.
What happens after I make a police statement?
Once you have made a statement you have a choice as to what action you would like the police to take.
- You can request the statement is placed on file but no further investigation is made. If, in the future, another complaint is made against the same offender the police may contact you and ask if you now want to lay a formal complaint.
- You can request that the police speak to the offender but no other action is taken.
- You can lay a formal complaint that will then be investigated by the police with the aim of prosecuting the offender.
It is up to you which of these options you choose. The police and other support people can talk through the process with you but the final choice lies with you.
If I make a formal complaint will the case definitely go to court?
The decision to prosecute is a police decision, based upon the evidence obtained. If there is insufficient evidence, the police may choose not to proceed. But the information you have provided may still help them in the future.
If the case does not go to court it definitely does not mean that the police don’t believe you or that you are in any way to blame for the assault. The police must be satisfied that there is a level of “evidential sufficiency”for the matter to be put before the courts. Often the merits of a complaint with be discussed with Police Legal Advisors or the Crown Solicitor if the evidence is not particularly strong.
What will happen in court?
The court provides the process whereby the offender can be prosecuted. You are likely to be a witness for the prosecution. As a witness, the public prosecutor and the defence lawyers may question you. There are rules as to what types of questions you may be asked in court but it can still be a very stressful process for you to go through as you will be asked for details about the sexual assault.
How long does it take, after I make my statement, for the case to be heard in the court?
Each case will be different because of the length of time it can take to gather evidence and complete the police investigation.
However, once the decision is made to prosecute it will usually be at least a year before the case gets to trial. There will be a preliminary hearing and a number of administrative court dates but the victim will not be required to attend these.
Is there anyone who will support me through the legal process?
Your nearest Rape Crisis Centre is able to support you at all times through this process. They can work with you and the police to ensure all of your questions are answered, you have access to all relevant services (e.g. counselling) and that you have someone to talk to whenever it is needed.
What if I do not like the way I have been treated by the Police?
You are entitled to make a complaint if you are in any way unhappy with the way your case has been treated by the police. While it may be helpful to raise your concerns directly with the police involved, if you are not comfortable with this or you do not feel it has achieved anything you can take the complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority. You may wish to contact your nearest Sexual Assault Support Agency to discuss your concerns and receive some help with making your complaint.
Should I have a medical examination after a sexual assault?
There are two key reasons for having a medical examination after a sexual assault. Firstly, there is your physical wellbeing to look after. A medical examination can check for and treat any injuries and give you an opportunity to talk about matters such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and any other concerns you may have.
The second reason is a medical examination can provide an opportunity to collect forensic evidence.
Can I go and see my own doctor?
If you are making a statement to the Police they will refer you to a specially trained doctor (known as DSAC – Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care) to collect any forensic evidence – but only if you agree. The DSAC can also talk through any other medical concerns you may have about the assault or you may want to see your own doctor for this .
If you are not going to the police you should still consider seeing your own doctor to check on you physical health after the assault. However, your own doctor will not be able to collect any forensic evidence.
What if the assault has just happened?
The police will usually arrange for the medical examination to be done before doing a detailed interview with you.
If you have been recently assaulted try not to:
- eat, drink, wash or comb your hair;
- use the toilet (if you have to go the toilet do not wipe yourself);
- change your clothing; or
- wash your hands
until you have had a medical examination as valuable evidence left by your attacker could easily be destroyed.
How long after the assault can forensic medical evidence be collected?
While the chances of collecting forensic medical evidence are greatest if the examination is carried out within 72 hours of the assault, some evidence may still be collected up to 7 days after the assault.
What does the forensic examination involve?
The examination can take 2 to 3 hour because the doctor will take time to explain what she is doing and why. The doctor will be as sensitive to your needs as possible, but must try to get the best possible samples for use as evidence.
The doctor will examine your whole body for injuries. An internal examination will normally be done to check for injury and any evidence that may remain after the assault.
A number of methods will be use to collect evidence including taking blood samples for identifying a blood group, alcohol and drugs. Samples of head and pubic hair, fingernail scrapings, evidence of stains and debris like grass, hair, mud and gravel will be taken and so will swabs. An ultraviolet light may be used to detect semen or seminal fluid.
If you are wearing the clothes you were assaulted in they will also collect these at the medical examination (otherwise the police may ask if they can collect the clothes from you).
Can I have a support person with me during the examination?
Yes, you can have a person of your choice with you at all times.