As if being sexually assaulted or raped wasn’t traumatic enough, the next step is often telling someone about it. The re-living of the event is often more difficult than the violation itself. This is because we often disassociate, or go into fight or flight mode during a powerful event, our body takes over to protect our mind. Later when we’re safe and telling our story, none of that adrenaline is there to protect us. Now it’s everyday life in the after math of that event, finding a way to survive and move on; that’s why talking about what happened is often the hardest part.
Depending on the events that took place, your level of comfort, and many other factors, you may want to report your attacker. It isn’t a requirement, but it can help with closure. The police get paid to protect us; often they don’t or can’t do this while when a crime like this is taking place. However it’s our job to help them help us when something like an assault happens by reporting it. Talking to the police doesn’t have to be another traumatic incident, if you go prepared.
Or maybe you know someone who was assaulted and think they would report their attacker if only the idea of doing so wasn’t so scary. Don’t force them! It’s easy to say they should stand up for themselves and get the attacker in trouble, but you weren’t there. Even after the event is over, the memory of it lives on and jumps out at the most inconvenient moments. Certain sounds, places, or people will trigger the flash of that traumatic event. Talking in detail about what happened, to a stranger nonetheless, is equally triggering.
I can’t tell you what’s right for you in the wake of a rape or assault. You have to do what feels good to you. If it’s reporting, then do it. In Oregon the statute of limitations on sexual violence is 6 years so you don’t even have to do it right away. If not reporting is what you chose, don’t let anyone tell you that means it didn’t happen or you’re letting your attacker win. Don’t let anyone bully you into reporting!
What I can tell you is what I learned during the long drawn out process of reporting my rape so that you can learn from my mistakes. This is the information I wish I had when I went to press charges against my attacker. I am not a legal professional, this is just what I’ve gathered and learned from my own experience.
In my case I reported the man who raped me two months after the event took place, when I was feeling emotionally together enough to do so and had support. Before the event I was friends with my rapist so he wasn’t a stranger. This is the specific situation I can speak of. And for ease of pronouns only, I will refer to the rapist as male and the victim as female though I know and understand that many variations of sexual violence can take.
- Before you do anything else, write down any pertinent dates, times, legal names, addresses, physical descriptions, license plate, or phone numbers specific to the event.
Telling your story is going to be difficult and a stressed brain doesn’t remember minute details like these easily. And believe me the officer who takes your statement is going to ask for all this and more.
Do you know how many dates you went on together before he raped you? The exact time it was that night when he first put his hand on you? The full name of anyone who witnessed the events? How many minutes you went down on him before things took a turn for the worse?
It’s ridiculous but I was asked all of these questions and hundreds more. The officer will be very thorough, both because they never know what detail will be important and sometimes to talk you in circles a bit to see if you contradict yourself. So do yourself a favor and write it all down!
- Find support!
Please don’t try to do this alone. No matter how tough you are, it isn’t worth it. Find someone, a close friend, a mentor, or an acquaintance that has gone through something similar. A significant other is a good back up option. They might seem like the best person to have there but I found it more difficult having my partner involved and it ultimately complicated our relationship in ways we never expected. So use your lover for support with caution.
If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable with being there in the room with you, call a rape victims hotline (https://ohl.rainn.org/online/) and ask for an advocate to be there with you. It seems silly but this is so important, you will thank me later! This isn’t about touchie feelie stuff like needing a hug; it’s about making sure you aren’t alone in a room with an officer.
The police officer that is randomly assigned to you might be understanding or they might be an old school, misogynistic, hard ass. It will be hard enough to tell your story and get your facts straight while being questioned. If the officer gets out of line you need someone there that is emotionally stable enough to advocate for you and get the conversation back on topic.
- ·To contact the police in order to make your statement, call your local non-emergency number and say you need to report a sexual assault.
The operator will ask you some basic questions, make sure you’re safe, and get your contact information. You will go in the queue of crimes not in progress that the next available officer will take care of. They may be able to estimate how long you will wait. In some states you will be required to go to the precinct and talk to an officer there.
Waiting is the hardest part. If you’re at home, do something relaxing while you wait. Pacing around and counting the seconds is only going to fluster you and making telling your statement more difficult. If you’re at the precinct, read a book, get a cup of coffee, do something to occupy your mind because you will be there for a while, I’m sorry to say.
- Keep in mind, as a victim the police are *not* required to inform you of your rights. You have to request them. (Don’t get me started on how fucked up this is…)
The three basic rights to keep in mind are:
1. In the process of reporting a crime the police must treat you with respect and dignity. If the offer says anything slut shaming like “you asked for it” immediately request a new non-judgmental officer to handle your case. Don’t take any crap from the person paid to keep you safe.
2. You have the right to have someone in the room with you: your support person (as long as they were not a witness to the crime) or an advocate. If you didn’t bring one with you, the officer is required to wait as one is called to sit in the room with you during the statement process.
3. If you’re in need of medical treatment or STI testing as a result of the crime you may qualify for victim compensation from the state. There are also mental health services dedicated to trauma victims. You should ask for the forms to fill out and apply for these services, it doesn’t hurt to try to see if you qualify.
For starters, a full list of victims rights in Oregon can be found here: http://www.doj.state.or.us/victims/pdf/victims_rights_guide.pdf
Also if you’re reporting at the precinct you have the right to be interviewed in a “soft room.” If they try to take you to an interrogation room or a room with locks, insist on being talked to in a room for victims, no matter how busy they are. You committed no crime; they have no reason to take you to a hard, scary room for criminals!
- Tell your story. Keep it simple, keep it short, keep calm.
Start at the beginning (how did you meet the person who hurt you?) and work your way to the event. The officer should guide you in asking specifics. The officer will likely be taking notes by hand so go slow and keep to the basics. Don’t be surprised when they ask you to define things like fooling around, penetration, dating, or oral sex. They need to know the exact details and what those words mean to you. If your rape involved an alternate lifestyle (kink, poly, swinging) you’re going to have to define a lot more words, don’t take it personally or get offended.
Don’t go on wild tangents, over share, or pass judgments. It’s time for just the facts and just the events that relate to the day in question. It will be easier to appear believable if you don’t rant, rave, or otherwise act in ways that can be construed as “crazy.” It’s okay to be upset, to cry, and to need to take breaks. But you’re not doing yourself a favor if you overreact or name call. He hurt you, the best way to hurt him back is to stay calm so the officer can best help you. Your behavior during the event and while talking to the police will be recorded, so be prepared and make a relatively good impression.
- Now is the time to ask questions and get information from your officer.
From experience I can tell you that this time you’re in the room with your reporting officer is probably the only time you will readily be able to talk to them. They’re busy and over worked, even if they believe your story and want to help, your crime has already happened so you aren’t their highest priority. Ask every question you can think of now while they are in the room with you. Now is when your support person can help you out by asking questions or helping guide you.
Things you need to get from your officer before you leave the room:
1. Their card with badge number, the direct phone line to their extension, and your case number.
2. To have them to read back the name of your attacker and his personal info to make sure it’s correct.
3. Forms for victim’s compensation or the number of the person who can help you with that.
4. An estimate of how long it will take for them to file the report.
- Follow up!
As I’ve said several times, sex crimes are not a high priority which is a frustrating topic for another time. You are going to have to make noise to get them motivated to file paper work and inform you of what’s going on.
Your officer should call you when your statement is filed. A month seems pretty standard from what I experienced. If you haven’t heard back by then, call. Once it’s available, request a copy from the courthouse, it’s usually a couple dollars a page but worth every penny. If there are any major mistakes (my rapist’s name was incorrect on my first report, for example!!!) call and complain until someone talks to you that will fix the mistakes.
- Chose whether you want to go forward.
Congratulations, you’ve done a lot! At this point, having a record of the event on file might be enough for you. This assures his name shows up on a report in the future, there will be a history of similar offences connected to his record.
But if you want to press charges, you have a long fight and a lot of frustrating phone calls ahead of you. One of two things will happen now:
1. Your case will be investigated further.
Now you give a much longer statement to a sex crimes detective who files another report and it’s decided by the district’s attorney whether the case is prosecutable or not. If your attacker has a record of such behavior you might then go to trial.
2. Your case will be rejected for any of a million reasons.
Just so you’re not surprised, very few sex crimes are seen as prosecutable, especially if you had consensual sex or dated your attacker in the past. If there are any elements that a typical juror wouldn’t understand (once again sex work and poly, kinky, swinger lifestyles are hard for the police and general publish to get their heads around) the district attorney will almost certainly not pursue your case because he won’t see your case as viable to win. The DA’s office has to keep their percentage of winning cases at a certain level or risk not being re-elected.
Basically unless you were jumped by a stranger who left DNA evidence on you, and you had the presence of mind to get a rape kit right after it happened, there is little chance your assault will go to trial. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. And yes you should be pissed about this because its bull shit!
At this point your options are:
A. Move on and find healing from your assault in a non-legal means. This doesn’t mean giving up; it just means giving up on the police.
B. Call around until you get a higher up’s attention. You can make a bother of yourself until someone listens to you or your case ends up at the DA when they’re willing to take on a risky case.
C. Pursue civil action. You might not be able to get your attacker arrested for assault but you can sue him for damages.
Regardless of which road your case takes, the sex crimes unit of the precinct should have matched you with a victims advocate soon after your case is filed who will offer to talk to you about your options. She will give you information about therapy, self care to recover from trauma, lawyers, filing restraining orders, starting a civil suit, and much more. It’s worth going to meet her to get this info and have another person who you can contact for help in the future. Often she will be much better able to pin down the officer on your case. It’s easy to ignore you, not as easy to ignore her.
No matter what happens, remember that most people never report their rape so if you decide to do so that’s a big fucking deal. You are one strong person. Don’t get discouraged, you always have options!