Reporting to Police: What to Expect

The process of reporting a sexual offense to law enforcement can be traumatic.  Knowing what to expect can help mitigate this trauma.

Keep this in mind

  • By reporting your attack, you have done what law enforcement says you should do.
  • The law enforcement responses may be inappropriate for the crimes you are reporting.  It is likely that you will experience a mismatch between the way you and your report should be handled and the way police and other law enforcement actually respond to you.

In an ideal world, reporting may look like this

  • You survive an attack and choose to report.
  • Investigators treat you with human decency.
  • Law enforcement diligently investigates the crime you describe to them.
  • You consent to a forensic examination of your body; even if police can’t find your attacker, they process and upload any crime scene evidence from your case into local, state, and federal DNA databases, which can potentially solve your case and others.  Police build a case by using evidence.  This includes DNA evidence.  Prosecutors make every effort to hold your perpetrator(s) accountable to the fullest extent allowed by law.

In the real world, reporting may look like this

  • You survive an attack and choose to report.
  • Investigators treat you like a suspect.
  • Rather than investigate the crime you describe to them, investigators build a case against you.
  • Investigators doubt your account of the crime; they may viciously interrogate you or simply accuse you of lying.  If police believe that you are making up your attack, they may arrest you for filing a false report.
  • You consent to a forensic examination of your body.  Rather than using the evidence collected during this procedure to build a criminal case, law enforcement officials “forget” about it.
  • Prosecutors decide a jury won’t believe you.  Your evidence is not enough.

How to reconcile the differences

  • Prepare yourself in advance to be treated like a criminal suspect.  Remember who you are.
  • Do not expect to find justice through the criminal justice system.  The function of the criminal justice system is to give effect to criminal defendants’ due process rights.  It is not a means of obtaining justice for crime victims.
  • Understand that “victim advocates” sometimes advocate for systems and institutions, not for victims.
  • Know your rights.
  • Document and keep a record of everything about your case.
  • Become your own advocate.  You are the expert; you know what is best for you.

People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws is a program of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center to monitor law enforcement responses to sexual violence, develop peer advocacy, and organize for criminal justice reform. We urge you to learn more about America’s hidden rape crisis, where it has been exposed, and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support our efforts to make sure law enforcement takes rape seriously.