Reporting to the Police

This guide explains the police investigation for sexual offences and what you can expect from the process.

If you are a victim of crime, or if you see a crime taking place, it is up to you whether you tell the police. If you choose to then you can do this a number of ways:

  • Call 999 if it is an emergency
  • If you would prefer to remain anonymous then you can call Crimestoppers by phoning 0800 555 111

It takes courage to talk to the police, and taking part in a police investigation can be difficult and demanding. This guide contains basic details of the police investigation process and signposts you to more detailed information that you may find useful. It also tells you about some of the support that you can get to help you go through the police investigation process

Cases reported to the police by phone will start with a Police Call Handler or the Police Emergency Control Room (the Call Handler Team).

The role of the Call Handler Team is to check if you or other members of the public are in immediate danger, or if the police need to collect some evidence quickly. The Call Handler Team will not investigate the crime.

You may be contacted by either a specialist investigation officer or a uniformed officer, depending on how long it is since the sexual violence happened and the structure of your local police force.

If the Call Handler Team think you need an urgent visit from the
police, they’ll send a uniformed officer from a Response Team. The
role of a Response Team is to make sure you are safe and to collect
any forensic evidence.

The response officer may record what you say in a booklet and/or
using a camera on their chest (called Body Worn Video, or BWV).
You can ask to be recorded or not recorded with BWV. Any BWV recording that is taken of you can be used as evidence in court.

You do not need to talk about the sexual violence in detail to the Response Team. However, an officer will ask some broad questions about what happened to help guide the investigation. The questions might feel very direct, embarrassing, or silly. This is because they need to check which specific law they think has been broken.

It’s important that you feel comfortable with the police.

Tell the police if there’s something that would make you feel more comfortable (e.g., some people prefer speaking to non-uniformed officers, or officers of a particular gender). The police can’t guarantee anything because it depends who is available, but they’ll follow your choices if they can.

If you are formally interviewed about what has happened to you then you can request the gender of your interviewing officer if it will help you with providing your evidence.

Forensic and medical examination – If the sexual violence happened less than a week ago, the police may collect items to help prove what happened.

The officers should explain what they take and why they are taking it. For personal items, such as clothing, you have a right to get the items back, but it can take a long time.

The police may also take you to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), where a doctor can do a forensic medical examination (FME). You can visit a SARC and have a forensic medical examination before reporting to the police, even if you are unsure whether you want to report to the police or not. Find out more about SARCs and the forensic medical examination The Glade – Sexual Assault Referral Centre – Survivor Pathway West Mercia (westmerciasurvivorpathway.org)

A police officer from the investigation team will contact you as soon as possible after you reported, often by phone call. This should be within 1-2 days of you reporting to the police, but it can also take a bit longer if the police force is very busy and depending on the details of your case. The police officer should ask if you want to meet them in person at your home, or in a safe and private place to talk more.

Your police officer will introduce themselves and talk you through the next steps. They might ask some ‘risk assessment’ questions to check you are safe. You can tell them about things you are worried about, or if you feel that you or other people might be unsafe in any way.

The officer should tell you how to access support services and ask if you want them to refer you for ISVA support.

Your police officer will then agree a communication plan with you.

This plan tells the police how and when you’d like to be contacted. If you already have an ISVA at this point, the communication plan should be made with their input as well. The police should check that you’re still happy with the communication plan each time you speak with them. You can update your preferences at any time. The communication plan also gives you an opportunity to discuss and write down your safety concerns. Safety concerns can be mentioned to your police officer or ISVA at any point and be discussed every time the communication plan is updated.

If you have not made a communication plan, please ask about it next time you speak with any police officer or your ISVA. You can quote this guide to state that police should make a plan with you.

At this first visit/meeting with the investigation team officer, they may ask you a little about what happened in the sexual violence, especially if you didn’t have a visit from the Response Team. They might ask some questions that seem very direct, embarrassing, or silly. This is because the police have to follow certain rules when they ask what happened, and they need to be clear about some details that might not feel important to you. You can ask officers to explain why they are asking you certain questions if you want to

The police will invite you to an interview, where they will ask you to talk in detail about the sexual violence that happened.

This interview is usually filmed, and the video can be played in court if the case goes to trial. This type of interview is called an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview. Some police forces also call it a Video Recorded Interview (VRI), but it’s the same thing.

Often, the interview takes place in a specially designed room (called a VRI suite). It might be in a SARC, a police station, or another building.

The interview can be a difficult process, because the police will ask you to talk about the sexual violence in a lot of detail. Beforehand, the police should explain the interview process and ask if they can do anything to make this process easier for you.

During the interview, you can ask for breaks if you want them. It might also be helpful to have someone available to support you afterwards, and for you to not do much for the rest of the day.

Some people also find it useful to look at ‘grounding exercises’, which can help with dealing with intense feelings, being overwhelmed, or having panic attacks. For more information about grounding exercises follow this link: Grounding

Speaking about the sexual violence can bring up some new memories. If you remember more things after the interview, just write them down and contact your police officer.

You have the right to ask for a friend or family member to sit in the interview with you, as long as they are not a witness in the case. Your supporter cannot get involved with the interview questions, but they can ask for breaks and comfort you in ways that the police interviewer cannot.

If you have an ISVA, they can sit outside the interview room to support you. You can also request that your ISVA sits inside the interview room with you as a supporter. However, because ISVAs aren’t allowed to know the evidence in your case, if your ISVA sits in the interview then they will not be able to continue to be your ISVA after this point. In these circumstances, another ISVA would then be assigned to support you through the criminal justice process. You can talk to your ISVA if you have any questions about this.

To help you feel as comfortable as possible in the interview, you have the right to ask that the police officer is a gender of your choice. Under a document called the Victims’ Code (VCOP), the police must meet your request unless they think it would make the investigation unfair.

You can read more about the Victims’ Code by searching: The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales

Will the suspect be arrested?
This will often depend upon when and what has happened. You can tell the police what you would like to happen and they may consider your wishes.

If the police have ‘reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s arrest is necessary’ (for example if they are worried about your safety or the safety of others) then the suspect is likely to be arrested.

Your officer will keep you updated if the suspect is arrested. See the Victims Code for more details: The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales

Sometimes the suspect may not be arrested but will be contacted, often by telephone, and asked to come into the police station for an interview on a ‘voluntary’ basis

Will the suspect(s) be in prison during the police investigation?

After a suspect is ‘charged’ (see p.17), they may be held in custody before the trial (called ‘remand’). This is not possible before this point in the police investigation.

Before a suspect is charged, the police can release them on ‘bail’, meaning the suspect is legally required to report to the police at a specified date and time. A suspect can also be ‘released under investigation’, where the suspect does not have a requirement to report at a specific date and time.

If a suspect is released on ‘bail’, this can be with or without ‘conditions’. These conditions can limit, for example, where a suspect can go or who they can contact. Your police officer may talk to you about your concerns before releasing the suspect on bail. These concerns should be written down and considered by the police. It is likely that the suspect will be subject to bail conditions. Ask your police officer or ISVA if you’re not sure what this means for you.

You have rights under the Victims’ Code to be told about key decisions in the investigation, such as if the suspect is to be released on bail and any bail conditions they have been given.

If the suspect contacts you or other witnesses in the case, it’s important that you tell the police. The suspect may be breaching their bail or committing a further offence by contacting you. The police may consider other measures such as obtaining a civil order to help keep you safe. Talk to your police officer and ISVA if you feel unsafe at any point, or you are worried about your safety.

Evidence from your phone and other personal records
Sometimes, the police will ask for your phone or other digital evidence, such as your social media accounts. The police can ask different agencies for records they have about you: for example, your doctor or social services. This is called ‘third-party material’.

Asking for this type of evidence can feel intrusive. You have rights if the police ask you about digital evidence or third-party material.

Before a police officer asks for your phone or seeks access to third-party material, they should be sure that it’s important for the case.

The rules about how and when police can get private information about you are very complicated and differ. If digital material or third-party material are requested, you should receive separate forms explaining what they want and why. You might want to talk to your police officer, ISVA, or a lawyer about your rights.

If you give your police officer an electronic device so they can extract digital data (e.g., your phone or computer), they should give it back as soon as possible. However, it can sometimes take longer, so ask your police officer about timeframes. You can also ask about borrowing a phone while you wait for yours to be returned. The police should tell you how long they want to have your device, although they might not be able to tell you an exact timeframe

To give you confidence about when the police ask for sensitive evidence, there should be local safeguards to your rights. Ask your police officer to tell you about their latest transparency and accountability mechanisms on digital evidence and third-party material.

The ongoing police investigation
After a flurry of activity, it might feel like the police investigation suddenly goes quiet. The police officer investigating your case will be gathering the evidence: for example, interviewing the suspect and other witnesses. Gathering the evidence can take a long time – a year or more in some cases.

Your police officer will update you in line with your communication plan, so you can decide if you’d like to hear from the police regularly or only when something changes in your case. You can change your communication plan at any time. Just ask your police officer.

This part of the investigation can feel frustrating and slow. It can be helpful to have support from an ISVA or other specialist support worker to help you cope. For more information about support services and talk to your police officer if you want help to access support. You are entitled to support, even if you want to stop the police investigation.

Stalking and harassment
It is important to tell your police officer if the suspect’s behaviour is worrying or frightening you, including if you think they are stalking or harassing you (for example, constantly contacting or following you).

If you are threatened or harassed in any way by the suspect, their family or friends, you should tell your police officer. It is good to make notes about what happened. This will help you to clearly remember later what was said and done.
If you feel you, or any of your family are in danger, call 999.

Victim Personal Statement
If you want to, you can write a Victim Personal Statement (VPS). A VPS is like a letter to the court saying how the sexual violence made you feel and how it has affected you, your life, and your family. It will be taken into account by all criminal justice agencies involved in the case and judges will refer to it when deciding on sentencing the defendant. Once you have completed a VPS you cannot change it, but you can update it. You can talk to your police officer about this.
You should know that anything you write in the VPS could feature in news reports about your case (although you won’t be named).

For more information see: Victim personal statements – Victim Support

How the police decide what to do with your case
Once the police have finished collecting the evidence, they will decide if your case can be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS are lawyers who decide if a suspect should be taken to court. This is called ‘charging’.

There are strict rules about when the police can send a case to the CPS. You can read about the CPS rules by searching: bit.ly/CPS-decisions

The police can only ask the CPS to take someone to court if it’s more likely that a jury will find the suspect guilty than not guilty. The jury is made up of 12 members of the public. In court, the jury are asked to look at evidence and decide if they are sure that the suspect is guilty. Even if a jury think the suspect is probably guilty but they are not sure (beyond all reasonable doubt), they cannot find the suspect guilty.

Some of the information collected during an investigation cannot be used in court and so will not count as ‘evidence’ in legal terms. For example, the police cannot usually use information that you’ve been told by other people.

If either the police or the CPS decide to take ‘no further action’ against the suspect, this means they will not be taken to court or ‘charged’. You may have a right to challenge the decision under something called the Victim Right to Review (VRR)

VRRs are not available in certain situations: for example, where the suspect cannot be identified or if you do not want to continue with the report.

If you are eligible for a VRR, the police or CPS must tell you about the scheme in a letter. The letter will also explain why they have decided not to take further action.

An ISVA or other supporter can help you challenge decisions with VRR.

What happens if the CPS ‘charge’ a suspect
If a suspect is ‘charged’ (formally told they’re being taken to court), the suspect is now called the ‘defendant’. The police sometimes ask a court to put them in prison until the trial (this is called ‘remand’). They can only do this if they think the defendant:
a. won’t turn up to court.
b. is going to commit another crime before the trial.
c. will hurt either themselves or someone else.

In most cases, the defendant will be put ‘on bail’, which means they wait for the trial at home. They can be put on bail with ‘conditions’, which limit, for example, where they can go and who they can talk to. For example, a defendant is usually told not to contact you or your friends. Please tell the police if there is anything else they should ask the defendant not to do. If the defendant contacts you or other witnesses in the case, it’s important that you tell the police. They will look at whether it means the suspect should be put on remand.

You will not be in court for any hearings to decide if the defendant is on bail or remand. The police must tell you if the defendant will be on bail or remand.

Around the same time, the defendant will go to court and tell a judge if they say they are guilty or not guilty. This is called a ‘plea hearing’. There may also be several other hearings (meetings in court) about the case. They will be about technical issues or deciding dates for the next steps. You will not be in court for any of these hearings. These hearings usually only take a few minutes.

If the defendant says they are not guilty: It might take months between the defendant pleading not guilty and the trial where the
case is decided by a jury. You’ll be offered support from a special
police team, usually called the ‘Witness Care Unit’ (or WCU).

Going to court (trial)If the defendant says they are not guilty:
While you wait for the trial, the Witness Care Unit will update you if there are any changes and they’ll tell you what date to go to court. You can ask for the police to share your communication plan with the Witness Care Unit, for example if you want updates via your ISVA rather than directly.

It’s common for the trial date to change a few times, and sometimes cases even get delayed on the day when everyone arrives at court for the trial. The defendant might also plead guilty on the morning the trial is meant to start.
The Witness Care Unit can arrange for you to visit the court building before the trial so that you know what to expect.

You are entitled to support at trial called ‘special measures’. For more information, see the section on special measures below or watch videos at:
Special measures – Preparing to come to court (youtube.com)

The Witness Care Unit, your ISVA (if you have one), and your police officer should all talk to you about special measures. If they have not done this before the trial, please ask any of them to tell you about this support.
You will not be in court for most of the trial.

You’ll wait in a separate room away from the rest of the court. You will be able to look at your police statement or interview so that it’s fresh in your memory before you answer questions in court. One of the ‘special measures’ you can choose is to have your video interview played in court instead of starting your evidence from scratch.

Next, the defendant’s lawyer will ask you questions and challenge you about what you’ve said. The jury and other people might be in the courtroom, or this might be a recorded session before the main trial.

Being asked questions by the defendant’s lawyer is a difficult experience. It is important to have someone to support you afterwards, and it can be helpful not to do much for the rest of the day.

If the defendant pleads guilty OR the jury say the defendant is guilty:
The defendant will now be sentenced. This hearing may happen straight away, or it might be done later because the court needs more information.

Will your name be in any media reports of the court case?
If you are a victim of a sexual offence, it is illegal to name you or describe you so that you can be identified in any newspaper or other media coverage of the court case, such as social media. See From report to court: A handbook for adult survivors of sexual violence

Use a ‘civil order’ to stop the suspect contacting you
If the suspect/defendant tries to contact or harass you, then you and the police may be able to apply for a ‘civil order’.

There are lots of different types of civil order, but most try to stop the suspect/ defendant from contacting you. You can find out more on the CPS website. Search: The Crown Prosecution Service (cps.gov.uk)

Your police officer (whose details are on the first page of this guide) can talk to you about the options. Your ISVA or support worker may also be able to help.

It is the police’s job to put some civil orders in place (e.g., a Domestic Violence Protection Notice, or DVPN). The police can use certain orders if they decide not to charge the suspect. The CPS can also request a civil order (e.g., a Restraining Order) is put in place even if the defendant is found not guilty. You can also get a lawyer to help you apply for some other civil orders without the police.

Information about getting a free or affordable lawyer is on the Citizens Advice website. Search: Finding free or affordable legal help – Citizens Advice

Apply for compensation
When you report rape or sexual violence to the police, you may be able to get compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (or CICS).

This money comes from the Government and not the suspect/defendant. It does not cost anything to apply.

The suspect/defendant does not need to be charged or convicted for you to get compensation, but there are some rules and timeframes (in most cases you must apply within two years of the crime happening, but there are some exceptions). These rules are explained on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) website by searching: Claim compensation if you were the victim of a violent crime or you can discuss this with your ISVA.

There are some useful videos about getting compensation on the Victim Support website at: Criminal injuries compensation – Victim Support

You can choose a friend or family member to make an application for you. You may also be able to get advice and support from your ISVA or support worker.

The Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) Scheme gives victims the right to ask for a review of a police decision not to charge a suspect.

VRR applies to cases where a suspect has been identified and interviewed under caution. This happens either after they’ve been arrested or because they’ve volunteered to be interviewed.

You have the right to request a review if it’s been less than three months since the police decided:

  • not to charge someone
  • that the case doesn’t meet the test for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to charge someone

This applies even if you:

  • previously withdrew your complaint and have now reinstated it
  • were not cooperating with the investigation but are now
    • It does not cover decisions on whether:
  • a crime is recorded
  • an investigation into a crime can continue
  • the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charge someone

Find out what can you do if the CPS decide not to charge someone.

VRR does not apply to cases where:

  • a suspect has not been identified and interviewed
  • only some of the charges are brought against some of the suspects
  • a positive decision has been made about someone else in connection with the incident. This could include a range of outcomes. For example, community resolutions or a caution, through to charge and a court appearance
  • the suspect is charged with a different crime from the one that was recorded and complained about by the victim. For example, the suspect is charged with common assault but an offence of actual bodily harm was recorded
  • the victim withdraws their complaint, or refuses to cooperate with the investigation, so police decide not to charge or to refer the case to the CPS
  • the victim’s complaint is currently withdrawn, or they are not cooperating with the investigation

Sometimes an investigation into an offence is ongoing, so even though police have made a decision on whether to charge someone, a VRR consideration may be postponed until the investigation is complete.

The scheme applies to any decision made on or after 1 April 2015.

If your request to review relates to the CPS VRR scheme, you can request a review on a decision made on or after 5 June 2013. As this is a CPS scheme, the right to review lies with them. Visit the CPS website for more information.

  • Who can ask for a review and when
  • You must request a review within three months of the police decision not to charge.
  • You can request a review of the case if you are:
  • a victim of a crime
  • a close relative of someone who has died as a result of a crime
  • the parent or guardian of a victim who is under the age of 18
  • someone who is representing a victim who has a disability or who has ​been badly injured as the result of a crime which means they can’t represent themselves
  • a business

You can ask someone to act on your behalf, such as a:

  • solicitor
  • Member of Parliament (MP)
  • registered victim support service

We will need written confirmation that they have permission to act on your behalf.

Every police force has their own Victim’s Right to Review Scheme. You can find details on how to apply either by asking the officer dealing with the case or online on the force website.

Victims’ Right to Review Scheme | West Mercia Police

We aim to contact people within 10 working days to let them know we have received their request.

An officer, who wasn’t involved in the case, will be assigned to review the case. The officer’s role is not to review the previous decision, but to take a fresh look at the evidence and to make their own decision.

A review is usually completed within 30 working days. In complex or sensitive cases, it may take longer. You will be given regular updates.

There are six potential outcomes of a review:

  • the new officer reviewing the case agrees with the first decision
  • the new officer disagrees with the first decision and the suspect is charged by the police, or the decision to charge is sent to the CPS
  • the original decision is overturned and the suspect dealt with out of court (an out of court disposal). This is a way of resolving an investigation for offenders of low level crime and anti-social behaviour.
  • the new officer disagrees with the decision and the case is sent to the CPS for a decision to charge.
  • the police decide they need to investigate further so the new officer can make a decision. 
  • the new officer disagrees with the decision but the statute of limitations has run out so nothing more can be done. 

They will contact you to let you know the outcome.

If you’re not happy with the decision, you can apply to the High Court for a judicial review.

If you’re feeling vulnerable or are afraid of the offender, or if a child or young person is giving evidence, the court may be able to provide ‘special measures’, these are:

  • giving evidence from behind a screen or by a live link from another room
  • trained professionals, called intermediaries, who can help to explain things
  • giving evidence in private, with no press or public allowed in the courtroom
  • communication aids (eg alphabet boards, speech systems) 

To find out more about going to court as a victim or witness, visit the Crown Prosecution Service. And there’s information for witnesses at Citizens Advice.

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims’ Code) sets out the services and a minimum standard for these services that must be provided to victims of crime by organisations (referred to as service providers) in England and Wales.

This Code acknowledges that the terms ‘complainant’ and ‘survivor’ are often used in the criminal justice system to describe a person who has made a criminal allegation to the police. However, for the purpose of this Code, the definition of a ‘victim’ is:

  • a person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence
  • a close relative (or a nominated family spokesperson) of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence.
  • You can also receive Rights under this Code if you are:
  • a parent or guardian of the victim if the victim is under 18 years of age or
  • a nominated family spokesperson if the victim has a mental impairment or has been so badly injured because of a criminal offence that they are unable to communicate or lacks the capacity to do so.

All service providers must have the victim’s best interests as their primary consideration and take the victim’s age, maturity, views, needs and concerns fully into account.

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales (Victims’ Code) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

1. To be able to understand and to be understood

You have the Right to be given information in a way that is easy to understand and to be provided with help to be understood, including, where necessary, access to interpretation and translation services.

2. To have the details of the crime recorded without unjustified delay

You have the Right to have details of the crime recorded by the police as soon as possible after the incident. If you are required to provide a witness statement or be interviewed, you have the Right to be provided with additional support to assist you through this process.

3. To be provided with information when reporting the crime

You have the Right to receive written confirmation when reporting a crime, to be provided with information about the criminal justice process and to be told about programmes or services for victims. This might include services where you can meet with the suspect or offender, which is known as Restorative Justice.

4. To be referred to services that support victims and have services and support tailored to your needs

You have the Right to be referred to services that support victims, which includes the Right to contact them directly, and to have your needs assessed so services and support can be tailored to meet your needs. If eligible, you have the Right to be offered a referral to specialist support services and to be told about additional support available at court, for example special measures.

5. To be provided with information about compensation

Where eligible, you have the Right to be told about how to claim compensation for any loss, damage or injury caused as a result of crime.

6. To be provided with information about the investigation and prosecution

You have the Right to be provided with updates on your case and to be told when important decisions are taken. You also have the Right, at certain stages of the justice process, to ask for decisions to be looked at again by the relevant service provider.

7. To make a Victim Personal Statement

You have the Right to make a Victim Personal Statement, which tells the court how the crime has affected you and is considered when sentencing the offender. You will be given information about the process.

8. To be given information about the trial, trial process and your role as a witness

If your case goes to court, you have the Right to be told the time, date and location of any hearing and the outcome of those hearings in a timely way. If you are required to give evidence, you have the Right to be offered appropriate help before the trial and, where possible, if the court allows, to meet with the prosecutor before giving evidence.

9. To be given information about the outcome of the case and any appeals

You have the Right to be told the outcome of the case and, if the defendant is convicted, to be given an explanation of the sentence. If the offender appeals against their conviction or sentence, you have the Right to be told about the appeal and its outcome.

10. To be paid expenses and have property returned

If you are required to attend court and give evidence, you have the Right to claim certain expenses. If any of your property was taken as evidence, you have the Right to get it back as soon as possible.

11. To be given information about the offender following a conviction

Where eligible, you have the Right to be automatically referred to the Victim Contact Scheme, which will provide you with information about the offender and their progress in prison, and if/when they become eligible for consideration of parole or release. Where applicable, you also have the Right to make a new Victim Personal Statement, in which you can say how the crime continues to affect you.

12. To make a complaint about your Rights not being met

If you believe that you have not received your Rights, you have the Right to make a complaint to the relevant service provider. If you remain unhappy, you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Do you want to give feedback about your experience with the police?

Operation Bluestone / Soteria is inviting victims / survivors of rape and sexual assault to take part in a survey about your experience with the police. The online survey is completely anonymous.

https://victimadviceline.org.uk/police-experience-survey/

Information and support for victims & witnesses | The Crown Prosecution Service (cps.gov.uk)

A guide for victims of rape and serious sexual assault – What happens when a case comes to the CPS | The Crown Prosecution Service

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales (Victims’ Code) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Support for victims and witnesses of crime | Police.uk (www.police.uk)

Going to court as a witness – Citizens Advice

Forensic evidence | Police.uk (www.police.uk)