Reporting Sexual Abuse to the Police
Making a decision about whether or not to report sexual abuse to the police can feel like a stressful and overwhelming experience for many people.
In our experience, having information upfront about what is involved and expected through the legal process, can help individuals to make the best decision.
Here are some things which may be helpful to understand and consider before making a decision.
There are no time limitations on reporting sexual abuse within Victoria and Australia. This means you can report sexual abuse to the police at any time in your life, no matter how many years ago it occurred.
You can report sexual abuse to the police regardless of whether you know all of the details and information about the offender or the crime.
Sexual abuse charges are specific to the laws that were in place at the time the crime occurred.
Sexual abuse cases are investigated by the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT) or by the Sex Crimes Squad (SCS). They work with cases involving children and adults.
SOCIT, SCS and Crime Command
There are 28 SOCIT’S across Victoria. Sexual abuse cases are investigated in the region where the crime occurred. SOCIT are responsible for investigating:
- Rape/attempt/assault with intent to rape by a known suspect(s)
- Indecent acts involving a high level of violence
- Attempted abduction for the purposes of sexual penetration by a stranger
- Allegations of child abuse
- Joint investigations with the the Department of Human Service (DHS)
The SCS is attached to Crime Command. They operate statewide across Victoria and investigate:
- Rape/attempt/assault with intent to rape by a stranger
- Rape involving life threatening/serious injuries
- Abduction for the purposes of sexual penetration by a stranger
Crime Command also has specialist investigative units that deal with ve the following specialist teams;
- TASKFORCE SANO. This taskforce was established to investigate historic and new allegations that have emanated from the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child sex abuse involving Religious and Non-Government organisations. They are working in collaboration with the Royal Commission.
- TASKFORCE ASTRAEA. This taskforce investigates online child sexual abuse, grooming and child exploitation.
- COLD CASE TEAM. This team are responsible for re-opening and looking at historical police files from 1975 onwards and re-testing for DNA.
At times SOCIT’s and the SCS will work collaboratively on investigations. In the majority of cases, SOCIT’s will be initially called out to attend to any sexual abuse in their area. If the matter is determined to be a SCS investigation, there will then be a handover of responsibility for the investigation.
SOCIT/SCS members wear plain clothes or suits in their roles, not police uniforms.
You can call the SOCIT/SCS and talk with them and ask questions about the legal process, without feeling pressured to make a police statement.
Gathering Evidence and Information
If you have been sexually abused within the past 72 hours and wish to report to the police, you may be offered the opportunity to have a Forensic Medical Examination to collect evidence of the crime. This process is co-ordinated by WestCASA at a special suite at the Sunshine Hospital who will provide youwith support. The SOCIT/SCS will also be in attendance with the medical examiners. The SOCIT/SCS may also want your clothing, phone, computer and other items that may provide evidence of the assault.
Once you have spoken with SOCIT/SCS, you may wish to make a police statement. This is a formal statement made with the assistance of the police which details the crime that has occurred. For adults, statements are generally typed up by the police. For those people who have a cognitive impairment, or are under the age of 16 years of age, statements may be video-taped.
After a police statement has been made, SOCIT/SCS may want to speak with and take statements from other people who may be connected with the case. This includes the person you first told about the sexual abuse.
SOCIT/SCS may arrest and interview the alleged offender. At the conclusion of the interview, the alleged offender may be released. In certain circumstances where the police assess there is an unacceptable level of risk, the alleged offender may be remanded in custody pending further court hearings.
SOCIT /SCS will investigate the crime. At the conclusion of the investigation they will assess if the evidence is of sufficient weight to take the case through a court process. They will only take a matter forward if they believe there is enough evidence to have a chance of succeeding in court. If the police decide not to proceed with the case, this does not mean that the police do not believe that a crime has been committed. Because sexual abuse often occurs in private, without witnesses present, finding evidence in these cases can be difficult.
Statement of No Further Complaint
You have the right to make a statement of no further complaint should you change your mind through the process of reporting a crime of sexual abuse to SOCIT/SCS. A statement of no further complaint is a signed statement which says that you no longer want the crime investigated by SOCIT/SCS. In certain circumstances, usually if the police assess that there is an unacceptable risk posed to the community, they may choose to override the wishes of an individual who has signed a statement of no further complaint and pursue an investigation and court hearing.
Going to Court
The Police Informant (or the team investigating the case) has a responsibility to keep you informed of the legal process and where the case is up to. Police however will not disclose information to you which may compromise the case.
The legal process takes time. It can take anywhere from months to many years to proceed through the entire legal and court process.
Prior to and throughout a court process, support is available for children and young people through the Child Witness Service (CWS) and for adults through the Witness Assistance Service (WAS). WAS is a part of the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP).
CWS and WAS can assist by:
- Helping you to understand the legal process
- Providing information about the progress of a legal matter
- Supporting you through pre-court conference with solicitors and prosecutors
- Assisting you with arrangements for attending court
- Helping you prepare a Victim Impact Statement
You will be offered options to give your evidence via a remote witness facility (eg. a video link from another room/building) or in person in the courtroom.
Counselling/medical files can be subpoenaed to court. WestCASA has a policy of contesting subpoenas of individuals’ counselling files and employ a solicitor to defend the privacy of the counselling file. This is done under the Evidence Act 1958 – Sect 32C – Exclusion of evidence of confidential communications.
There are no opportunities for the police/OPP to appeal the outcome of a sexual assault case, however the defendant (alleged offender) is able to appeal an outcome in court.