Going through the process of reporting sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse to police can seem unforgivably daunting for many people. Making a formal complaint to police can mean dealing with a complex legal system, and a prolonged prosecution process. It means verbally describing a series of traumatic events to officials, often multiple times. It means confronting anxiety around being questioned, or not being believed. It can mean fear of retaliation or judgement from others, including the perpetrator, family, and others.
These concerns and doubts can seem overwhelming for anyone, and men can experience a further range of difficulties related to being a man who has experienced sexual abuse or sexual assault.
As a direct result of these factors, sexual abuse and sexual assault is under-reported. In order to avoid re-experiencing the trauma of the abuse, or other people finding out about the abuse, or any of the above difficult experiences… many people never tell anyone, let alone the police.
We have a few articles on this website designed to give people an idea of what to expect when reporting to police and making a complaint.
- Prosecuting sexual abuse and sexual assault: Details the steps involved in reporting to police, making a complaint, and the prosecution process.
- John’s story: Exploring what the reporting process was like for one man, from his perspective.
- Reflections on the court process: A continuation of John’s story.
There are other options available to you besides seeking prosecution. You can get “closure” without going through a lengthy court process.
- Seeking counselling and support: One way of moving on is to talk to an understanding supporter.
- A letter to the abuser: Writing to the offender, or to the public in an open letter, is another.
- It’s never too late: Options you have if the abuser has died since the abuse.
- Improving your own wellbeing: Another way of moving on and living well.
Alternative reporting options
Finally, you can make an “informal report” about the assault(s) and the perpetrator to officials, anonymously if you wish, via alternative reporting options.
This is separate to making an official complaint or seeking prosecution. An informal report means that the police do not press charges in relation to your experience of abuse or assault, but are still provided valuable information about the offence(s) that may assist in other prosecutions. This is called Alternative Reporting Options, or ARO.
Knowing that many people do not want to make a complaint, police set up alternative reporting options to ensure that details regarding child sexual abuse and sexual assault are not lost. ARO is a way for people who have experienced sexual violence to pass on information, without making a formal statement of complaint, or attending court. This information can then be used to bring the perpetrator to account, and to prevent further offending.
In Queensland it involves filling in a ‘Sexual Crime Survey’, designed to gather information about the circumstances of the offences and what details, if any, you remember of the person/s involved. The information provided through the survey is then used to:
- Assist in the identification and prosecution of offenders.
- Assist in other prosecutions against an offender.
- Assist in solving reported offences of a similar nature.
- Protect the community, by enabling the police to devise strategies for preventing child sexual abuse or sexual assault.
You can participate in ARO regardless of when the abuse or assault occurred, and how old you were at the time.
You have the option of reporting anonymously. If you do include your personal details, you can indicate whether you would like a police officer contact you and discuss your situation.
You can report to Queensland Police through Alternative Reporting Options Online. Use this form if the assault or abuse occurred in Queensland, regardless of where you are now.
Other Australian states do have alternative reporting options.
New South Wales
Use the Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO) form, available as a PDF download. You can type directly into the form, then save and email it (or print and mail it) to NSW police. Use this form if the assault occurred in NSW. More information is on the NSW Police website.
If the assault or abuse occurred in Victoria, there is an alternative reporting option, but not in online format. You will need to talk with the police to file your report. You can make the report and request that no further action is taken. To do this, contact the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team.
Australian Capital Territory
It is possible to make an informal report through an alternative reporting option, but not in online format. You will need to contact the ACT police to make your report, which can be done with the support of a victim liaison officer.
You have options when talking to the police. You can:
- Ask for more information: You may wish to talk to the police informally and/or anonymously over the telephone or in person before making a final decision. Details of the offending can still be recorded by police for intelligence purposes without the caller identifying themselves.
- Make a report and request no further action: You can choose to talk to the police, make a police incident report and then sign a form saying that you wish there to be no further investigation.
- Make a formal report: If you choose to make a police incident report and provide a formal statement police may use your statement to try to apprehend, and where possible, charge the person who sexually assaulted you. Your statement then becomes the basis of the police investigation and is a key part of any court proceedings.
- Provide information anonymously without contacting the police personally: If you are apprehensive about involving police you are encouraged to make contact with Yarrow Place, Rape and Sexual Assault Service where you will be provided with information and choices about accessing medical and counselling services. (Free call 1800 817 421). An opportunity exists to provide information anonymously to police by completing a questionnaire that in no way identifies you as the victim. Forensic evidence can also be collected by specialist doctors from Yarrow Place and stored away for a period of time which allows you to make important decisions.
(As detailed in “What choices do I have?” SA Commissioner for Victim’s Rights)
You can choose the following:
- If you are unsure about reporting, you can speak to the police informally, either on the telephone or in person. The police will tell you about your options, but they will not do anything unless you want them to.
- You can make an informal report. This means the police will write down what happened, and you sign a statement saying that you do not want the matter investigated.
- You can make a formal statement. This means a full report of the incident is typed and signed by you when you are satisfied with the contents. A report can take several hours to complete. The police will then investigate the incident. If you change your mind later you must tell the police as soon as possible. However, if the police have already charged someone, you cannot withdraw your statement. During the investigation the police might ask you to take them to the place where you were assaulted so they can gather evidence. They may also interview any witnesses to the assault.
As detailed in “What to do if you want to report sexual assault to the police.”
National reporting options
If you live in another state there is an Australia-wide alternative reporting option called the Sexual Assault Disclosure Scheme, administered by Bravehearts. You can fill out the forms online, and choose for the information that goes to the police to be anonymous.
If your state is not listed here, it does not mean that this is not an option for you. You do have the option of making a report to the police, providing the details of the assault and the offender, but electing not to make a formal complaint. You may have the option of doing this anonymously over the telephone. Please call a police station in your state for more information.