Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What happens at the forensic medical examination?
If you are reporting a recent rape or sexual assault that has taken place within the past seven days, we might suggest that you have a medical examination to collect forensic evidence. If a forensic medical examination is needed and you consent to having it, this will take place at ‘Dewberry House' Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).

Although you can report sexual assault at any time, there is only a limited timeframe in which medical forensic evidence can be taken.

At the SARC a Crisis Worker will support you through the medical examination process. A doctor will carry out the examination. They are specially trained to do this as sensitively as possible. You can request to see a female or male doctor. The doctor will take your medical history and fully explain what will happen, for example the use of swabs.

The purpose of the examination is firstly to ensure your medical welfare and secondly to record any injuries and take evidential samples which may help with the investigation. You can choose to participate in the medical examination and then decide at a later date if you wish to share the evidence collected with the police. Please discuss this with your Crisis Worker if you want to learn more about this option.

To help preserve forensic evidence you should avoid washing, eating, or drinking prior to the examination. You can shower and change your clothes at the SARC.

Will you need to download information from my phone or social media accounts?
We have a legal duty to investigate ‘all reasonable lines of enquiry’. This means gathering all information directly relevant to the crime, which sometimes includes downloading relevant information (data) from your phone or social media accounts.

If a phone/social media download is required, an officer will seek your written consent to access your phone and give you written information explaining what specific data they want to access and why.

If a suspect gets charged, any information that may be used by the prosecution in court, including phone and social media data, must be provided to the defence and therefore can become known to the suspect.

Will the suspect have their phone taken?
This will depend on the case. We have a legal duty to investigate all reasonable lines of enquiry, which may include downloading and reviewing relevant information on the phone of any suspect.

What happens if I do not want to give the police access to my phone, social media accounts, medical or personal records?
We will only download or access your phone, social media accounts or other personal records with your consent and only take what is directly relevant to the crime. If you do not wish to give officers access to this information, they will discuss with you your reasons for not handing over your phone/disclosing particular records and try to address your concerns. It may be that your reasons will be brought up in court, to explain why we did not obtain information from your phone.

If a suspect is charged and the case goes to trial, the defence could suggest that you were hiding something if there is a reasonable suspicion that there is relevant information in your records or on your digital devices such as your phone.

Who do police need to contact as part of the investigation and who will be told I have reported a crime?
We take great care in protecting the anonymity of victims and witnesses of crime. If there are witnesses in your case, we may contact them and may have to tell some of them your name, if gathering information about your case is impossible without doing so.

If a suspect is interviewed, we need to tell them your name. If you are under the age of 16, we will need to inform your parent(s) or guardian.

It is against the law for anyone to publish your name or details that might identify you (including on social media), because people who report sexual offences are automatically given the right to anonymity for life.

How long does it take to complete the investigation?
There is no fixed timeframe, but police investigations can be lengthy and will take months rather than weeks. In a small number of cases the investigation can take much longer, for example where new evidence comes to light or there are delays in obtaining relevant evidence.

The Victims Charter means you have the right to be kept informed about your case and to receive regular updates. Read more on the Victims First website.

Will I have to go to court?
If a suspect is charged and pleads ‘not guilty’ it is very likely that you will be asked to give evidence in court. There are 'Special Measures' that can be applied for to make giving evidence in court easier for you, for example by giving evidence from behind a screen or via a live video link.

Other Special Measure options can include: you giving evidence in private by having the public gallery cleared; and the use of interpreters or intermediaries to help you give your evidence. 

If you wish, you will be able to visit the court before the trial to have a look around and have the court process explained to you. An Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA), as well as the Witness Service, can support you before and during a trial.

General questions asked about reporting sexual offences...

I’m not sure I want to report to the police. Is there someone I can talk this through with?
Making a report can feel daunting. If you would like to talk through your decision before reporting to us, you can contact the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) called Dewberry House or you can contact the independent Sexual Violence Advisor Service (ISVA) called JDAS to discuss this confidentially. You don't have to make a report to us if you choose not to.

Am I doing the right thing by reporting to the police?
Every report is valuable. Even if you decide that you do not wish to participate in a full investigation or criminal prosecution, making a formal statement to us can still be helpful. Your report could help protect you or others from harm, identify potential serial perpetrators and build a better understanding of crime, even if what you are reporting happened a long time ago.
Once you have reported a crime, you can withdraw your complaint any time. You do not have to go through with a full police investigation or prosecution in court if you do not want to. Either way, the information you provide to us can still be used to identify crime patterns, locations or serial perpetrators, especially if you are able to give us a formal statement.

What are my rights as a victim of crime?
As a victim of crime, you have rights and entitlements when you report your crime to us. For example, you have a right to have your crime recorded without undue delay; to be provided with information about the investigation; to be referred to support services that are right for you; and to make a Victim Personal Statement that lets you explain to the court and the offender how the crime has impacted you personally.

If you are unhappy with how you are being treated by us or with the decision made in the case, you have a right to make a complaint or have your case reviewed. These rights are set out in the Victims Charter.

Where can I get support and can I receive therapy?
ISVAs can provide competent, compassionate and independent support throughout the investigation and court process. You can also access ISVA support if you have not reported what has happened to you to the police. information about ISVAs and a list of specialist support services can be found in the support section.

You can receive independent, confidential therapy at any stage of the report process, including while the investigation is ongoing. If your case goes to court, we will have to let the LOD know that you received therapy, and they may request access to relevant parts of the counselling notes, which may then be disclosed to the defence. You can discuss any concerns you might have about the possibility of counselling notes being disclosed with your therapist and counsellor. Fundamentally, it is important for you to get any help you need as soon as you need it, rather than waiting until the investigation is over.

Can I talk to my friends and family about the case?
To protect the strength of your evidence, it is very important that you do not discuss the details of what you have told us with anyone else. However, you can talk to family and friends about how you are feeling so that they can support you.

Will this be in the news?
It is against the law for anyone, including journalists, to publish your name or any details that might identify you, including on social media. This is because those who report sexual offences to the police are automatically given the right to anonymity for life.

If you go to trial, courts are open to the public and there may be a reporter present who wishes to report on the case, but media are not allowed to publish your name or any information that might identify you.

Sometimes we put out a press release about a case where it is thought to be in the public interest (for example seeking witnesses or other potential victims), but you cannot be named publicly by the police. We take the protection of your anonymity very seriously and are experienced in protecting victim anonymity.

I am finding the investigation traumatic and stressful. Can I get support?
Reporting what has happened to you is not easy, and sometimes the police investigation can bring back traumatic memories and be emotionally difficult. We will refer you to a special support service in Phase 1 of the investigation, who you can discuss your concerns and experiences with.

ISVAs are experienced in helping victims of sexual offences through the criminal justice process and are there to support you. You can also contact the special support services listed on page 21.

If I no longer want to go through with the investigation, can I stop the process or take my report back?
You can withdraw your support of the investigation at any time. You do not need to continue participating with the police investigation or support a prosecution if you do not want to. You can always request for your case to be reopened at a later point if you change your mind.

Even if you do not wish to progress with the investigation, every report made can help us learn about offenders, crime patterns, locations, and might help us to identify serial perpetrators and prevent them from causing further harm. Telling us the reason why you no longer want to carry on can also help us improve how we support victims of crime.

My case has been closed without charging a suspect. Can I challenge the decision?
Yes. When the case has been reviewed by the LOD the Victims’ Right to Review scheme means you are entitled to have the decision explained to you and to have it reviewed if you wish. Your ISVA will be able to support you through this process.


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