Real Issues

Sexual assault and what happens next

Credit: Mihai Surdu - Unsplash - The Growing Up Guide

There are so many questions following a sexual assault, a rape, or any form of abuse and harassment. This article hopes to answer all of them.

With more and more incidents of sexual assault and harassment coming out in headline news every week, the topic of sexual abuse is becoming free discussion in social circles.

It’s a huge, terrifying and traumatic experience for anyone to go through, and can affect every single move you make from the moment it happens onwards – and for many of us, this is the most frightening part.

Dealing with what happens next can sometimes be just as frightening as dealing with the event itself.

Who do you tell, how do you explain what happened, how will your family and friends react, should you go to the police and if you do, will they believe you?

One of the first things to remind yourself is that you are never, ever alone in this. Sadly, there are thousands of people across the country who have experience similar situations, and have been through the same emotions that you’re going through, and survived.

They sat with their families and they told them what happened, they held the hands of nurses and doctors as they were examined, and they used every single drop of bravery they had in going to police and reporting what happened to them.

Having sat in the room of a police interview following a suspected sexual assault, I know first hand the questions that the police will ask, and why they need to ask them.

It can be terrifying thinking of yourself as a victim, and perhaps it’s easier not to admit to yourself that you are. This might stop you wanting to go to the police – what if they think you’re lying? If it wasn’t an actual rape, will they take you seriously? Will they judge you because of your age, gender, or emotional state at the time?

Try thinking of it this way: if you go to the police, and tell them what happened, describing your attacker and your attack, you could be stopping this from happening to someone else.

This doesn’t mean that, should you chose not to go to the police and someone else gets attacked that the blame lies with you in any way. But if you’re looking for that extra push to report your incident, look at it from this perspective.

As for the police, what will they do? In that first terrifying interview, how will they act? Will they treat you like a victim or a criminal? What will they ask?

One of the first things to remember is that the police are there to help you, and if you’ve called them or gone in to speak to them, they will do their best to listen and understand exactly what you are telling them.

A lot of the time, officers will be available to make house calls, if you don’t feel comfortable going to a station. This means that you can conduct your interview in your own home, where you feel safest.

They will usually send two officers – typically a male and a female officer – and you can make a gender-specific request if it makes you feel safer.

The main purpose of their visit is to get the clearest picture of what happened to you. So they will need to ask you a lot of questions, including what you were wearing and what you had been drinking.

Although this may seem like victim-blaming, it really really isn’t – they’re not saying that you were asking for it, or that it was your fault. They just want to know what you looked like, for CCTV purposes, and if there was a possibility that something may have been put in your drink without your knowledge.

Withholding information such as this, or lying about it could really damage your case, so try to be as honest as possible, and I promise that they will not be judging you for your answers.

They will ask you who you were with, and if anyone who saw you are available for contacting. This is the time to reach out to the people you were with, no matter how difficult this might be, and get the help you need from them. You might be surprised just how many people will be willing to offer information to support you through this, so put your faith in them.

If an incident happened away from home, in a public area or on the street, they can ask you to draw your route on a map to help them establish a timeline of events for their notes.

They will understand if you find it difficult to answer questions, and they will always recommend that someone sits with you as you talk to them. As scary as this process is, there is always someone to turn to, and somewhere to go.

This is what happens next after you report a sexual assault, and this is what happens after ‘no’ doesn’t mean no at all. You can get through it, and come out of it stronger on the other side, no matter how rocky the process may be. You got this.

If you think you have been a victim of sexual assault you can find hotlines and help centre information here.

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