According to statistics, one in three girls under 16 years of age will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience, and one in five adult women and one in ten adult men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. But how do you actually go about reporting a sexual assault if you find yourself in that painful situation? Villainesse has spoken to the NZ Police, sexual assault support agencies and survivors of sexual assault to help you to navigate your way through the process. While an assault can be extremely traumatic, there are systems in place to provide support and guidance.
Here’s a basic step-by-step guide to getting the justice process underway.
If possible, report the assault to police as soon as you can. The quicker that forensic samples can be taken, the less likely it is that vital evidence will be lost. As horrible as it may sound, try to avoid showering or washing your hands or the clothing that was worn during or directly after the assault took place. Take a support person with you if you’d like to and head to the nearest police station, or contact a support service near you (a list of support agencies can be found at the bottom of this article).
It’s important to know that even if an assault occurred days, weeks, months, or even years ago, you can still report it to the police.
When you arrive at the police station, ask the desk sergeant to speak to an officer in private. You do not have to explain why. Officers are trained to understand that this request is normal, particularly in cases where sexual violence has occurred.
An initial interview will take place in a private interview room with an officer who will ask you to tell them what happened. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a formal interview at this stage. The police need to determine who are the best support services to involve so that you are fully supported through the process. Your care and wellbeing is their number one priority.
The officer you spoke with will ask you if they can contact a support agency. These specialist agencies are independent of the police, and are there to provide any assistance you need. The person assigned to you will be with you through any further police interviews, medical examinations, counselling, and any legal procedures such as a court case if you want them with you for support.
Having a medical examination is an important part of reporting an assault, and while it may feel like you have to go through further physical trauma, the specialist doctors and nurses that handle sexual assault cases are trained to be kind and gentle. It is their job to gather any forensic evidence that may help with a conviction of your attacker if the police decide to prosecute. Most importantly, their job is to assess any physical damage you may have suffered. A medical examination will involve swabs taken from inside your mouth, underneath your fingernails, and around and inside your genitals.
The doctor that examined you will also suggest filling out some ACC forms so that you can get subsidised support for any on-going medical procedures, counselling and treatments. They will also give you antibiotics or the morning-after pill if you need it to protect against sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.
After the medical examination, you will be asked if you want to go ahead with a police investigation into your case. If you agree, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form which allows any forensic evidence gathered in the medical examination to be given to the Police. You will also be given an appointment for a follow-up appointment with the doctor, as well as information about counselling to help you through this difficult time. You will be able to go home or to somewhere you feel safe and supported.
At some stage over the next few days, the Police will be in touch to arrange a time to have a formal interview. Don’t forget, the support person assigned to you through one of the support agencies will make sure they are available to come with you to the police station, and you can also bring any family members or friends you need as well.
The formal interview will be recorded with a discreet camera in a private room with a detective that specialises in sexual assault cases. Another detective will be in an adjacent room monitoring the interview and making notes to assist the investigation. Try to give as much detail as you can, even anything that may seem insignificant, and remember that it’s totally normal and OK to feel emotional, cry, or get upset. Your wellbeing is the number one priority, and you can take a break anytime you need to.
Once the interview is over, the detectives will take over from there, and will keep you informed about the progression of the case.
Reporting a sexual assault is hard, but the people trained to deal with these sorts of cases are professionals, and YOU are their number one priority. A range of emotions and reactions are common, so nothing you are feeling is wrong or abnormal.
Be kind to yourself, and remember that being the victim of a sexual assault is NEVER your fault. You are a survivor. You are not to blame. You survived.
If you need support, the following services can help:
- National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (a group of sexual violence support service providers around the country) – Toah-Nnest.
- HELP - Support for Auckland survivors of sexual abuse 09 623 1700 (24 hour confidential phone line) or email HELP at email@example.com.
- Specialist support services are available nationwide on 0800 88 33 00.
- To find a support agency near you, click here.
Most sexual assault agencies are listed in the Personal Emergencies section of the White Pages.
If you are in danger, call 111 and ask for the police.