The circumstances behind any report of rape or sexual assault are unique, so the way we investigate each one can vary. However, every investigation will start with the same steps to make sure we gather as much evidence as we can, as quickly as we can, while giving you all the support and advice you need. Find out below what happens after you report rape or sexual assault and the support available to you during the process.

Is it an emergency?

Is someone in immediate danger? Is a crime taking place or has one just happened? If so, call 999 now and ask for the police. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, use our textphone service 18000 or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergencySMS service.

Your initial account

As soon as possible after you report rape or sexual assault, we’ll arrange for a specialist officer to talk to you. Their first priority will be to check on your welfare and find out if you need any emergency medical assistance.

If you’re comfortable talking about what happened, the officer will have four main questions:

  • Who did this?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?

We understand you may not be able to answer all of these. However, the more you can tell us, the better our chances of identifying the suspect.

The suspect

If we can identify and locate the suspect, we may arrest them. Our decision to make the arrest will be based on both your wishes and what we feel is in the wider public interest. If we believe there is a continued threat, either to you or the public, we will act. We cannot risk anyone else getting hurt.

Dedicated officer

For all penetrative sexual assaults and rapes we will allocate a specialist officer who will obtain a first account (if not already completed) and to continue as the link between you and the investigation.

If the sexual offence happened recently, the officer may ask you to provide a urine sample. If the offender touched you on a non-intimate part of your body, they may take a swab of that area.

Your officer may also ask you attend the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) where a specially trained nurse will examine you. This may involve taking intimate samples, photographing any injuries and providing sexual health advice. The examination will only take place if you agree to it.

The investigation

Another officer will deal with the investigation of the rape or sexual assault.

They will explain to you what is happening at each step, answer any questions you might have and, with your consent, refer you through to specialist support advocacy services, such as independent sexual violence advisors.

One of the officer’s first tasks will be to take a detailed account from you. This can be in the form of a written statement or a visually recorded interview. They’ll talk through both of these options with you beforehand.

They will also take a statement from the ‘first complainant’. This is the first person to whom you disclosed what happened to you – usually a friend, colleague, the original police officer you contacted, or someone else that you trust.

As a general rule, your officer will keep you informed of how the investigation is going at least every 28 days or sooner if there are any updates.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

If a suspect is arrested, they will be interviewed and evidence collected. The investigating officer will pass all of the evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and will detail the circumstances surrounding the offence.

A specially trained lawyer at the CPS will review all of the evidence and, together with a second 'reviewing lawyer', decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a trial. The CPS will then notify the OIC (Officer in the case) of the decision.

Going to court

If the CPS recommend a trial, the first stage will be ‘heard’ at a Magistrates’ Court. The suspect, who will be referred to in court as ‘the defendant’ will have to attend. You won’t need to attend at this stage. 

Giving evidence

If the defendant pleads ‘not guilty’ to the crime, you will need to go to the Crown Court and appear as a witness. In this case, you will be referred to as a ‘witness for the prosecution’.

The police and CPS can apply to the court for ‘special measures’ that can assist you when you give your evidence in court. Special measures can include giving evidence behind a screen or via a video link from another room.

Preparing for the day

It’s natural to feel a little nervous about going to court, but your police officer or independent sexual violence adviser will be on hand to support you all the way through the trial.

They can arrange a court visit before the day so that you can familiarise yourself with the layout of the courtroom.

Protecting your anonymity

If you attend court as a witness, it is against the law for the media to use your name or give details that would make it clear who you are.