Please note that Living Well is an Australian service, and the below information is relevant to residents of Queensland, Australia. If you are located in another country, there are some links in the comments, otherwise please check out some of the other worldwide services online.
Are you considering prosecution?
If you have experienced childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, then it is almost inevitable that at some point the question will arise as to whether you wish to make a formal complaint, in order to have the person who abused or assaulted you prosecuted. Below is some information about contacting police, making a formal complaint and the prosecution process in Queensland.
You may also be interested to know that, should you decide that you don’t wish to make a formal complaint at present, there are still things you can do to help others and prevent someone committing further offences.
Reporting to police: It’s your decision
You may feel pressure from family members or friends to report (or not report) child sexual abuse or sexual assault. You are the only person who can decide whether or not to report to the police. Most people have mixed feelings about it. It can be useful to discuss any concerns you have with a supportive person, a counsellor or someone who knows about making a complaint to police and the prosecution process.
Police and health workers recognise just how difficult it can be to make a formal complaint regarding childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault and are specifically trained to assist you. You may feel it is important to do your best to have the person/s who committed the offences held to account and stopped from doing it to anyone else. You should also be aware that Queensland Police Service has a special unit, Taskforce Argos, who specifically deal with sexual offences committed 10, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years ago.
It’s never too late.
Childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault often involve taking away a person’s sense of control and choice, so it is important now that you feel in control and free to decide what action you wish to take. Provided below is some information regarding prosecution and court processes and the options available to you in making a formal complaint to police.
What to expect from the judicial system
Going to court in Queensland: Visit the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney General Website for comprehensive information regarding what you can expect as a witness, how the court operates, your rights and responsibilities, how to make a victim impact statement, and victim compensation.
Going to court in Victoria: Victims of Crime is an interactive web resource to learn about keeping safe, the court process, your rights and entitlements, and who can help you along the way. It includes videos, surveys and games.
If you are unsure about making a complaint
If you are unsure about making a complaint right now but wish for important information about a sexual abuse or sexual assault to be passed on, you can make an informal complaint through alternative reporting options (ARO) in your state. “Alternative reporting options” is a term for making a report to police without making a complaint (or “pressing charges”) against the offender, which means you do not need to go to court. You can make your report anonymously and help to prevent further assaults, and bring those perpetrating sexual offences to account. Visit the QLD alternative reporting options website or learn more about AROs in Australia.
Making a complaint to the police
Formally reporting something to the police is called making a complaint. If you make a complaint you will be asked about the assault, and the police officer will type up what you say. The officer will need to know as many details as you can remember. If you find that telling the details becomes too distressing you may call an end to the interview if you wish. Police policy has been changed to minimise the number of times you have to tell the story to different police officers.
Making a statement
If you decide to make a complaint to the police, you will have to make a statement. You may ask to talk to either a man or woman police officer, and the police service will try to meet this request. As far as possible, the police must accommodate your wishes as to when and where the interview takes place. You are entitled to have a support person present at the interview.
The police must try to safeguard your privacy and anonymity as far as possible. In rural areas and close-knit communities, privacy and anonymity can be a problem. Tell the police about your concerns. You may want to ask that police officers from another town take the statement and investigate the offence. It’s up to the police whether they agree, but police policy does state that such situations must be dealt with ‘in a highly sensitive manner’.
What is a statement?
The statement itself is a typed record of events before, during and after the child sexual abuse or assault. It will also contain your description of the offender and any conversation that took place. The police will ask you to tell what happened in your own words, and ask you questions so that important details are not left out. You may be asked questions that you find embarrassing to answer. However police officers should never ask questions such as: ‘Did you enjoy it?’. If they do, it is your right to complain about it. Afterwards you will be asked to sign each page. Your statement will be used in court as the basis of the case against the suspect. It is very important that you read it carefully and correct any errors before you sign. There are a number of different ways to make a statement. In some areas, your statement may be taped or videotaped, as well as being written down. You do not have to agree to this.
Stress or shock can sometimes make people uncertain about exactly what happened. If this happens, let the police know. Many people find that they remember more details of an event after they have been written down. If you remember something that you did not tell the police, call them and let them know. The information may be useful. It is also common to remember details a little differently later on. If this happens, tell the police officer in charge, or the prosecutor, who will decide whether it is important. If they decide it is important they will ask you to make a further statement.
Getting a copy of your statement
Although you will not have to repeat your statement word for word in court, you will be expected to give an account that is similar to your statement. You have a right to a copy of your statement, and it is very important that you get one. If the police don’t give you one, ask for it.
If you do not wish to proceed with further police action after charges have been laid, you will need to give police a brief statement to this effect. You should inform the police of your wishes as soon as possible.
The police should tell you that the case could still go ahead, and that you may be called as a witness. They should check that the suspect hasn’t put any pressure on you to withdraw the case.
Help in dealing with the police
There may be many barriers to communicating with the police, but there is assistance available to you:
- If English is not your first language you have the right to an interpreter. The police will organise one for you for when you make your statement or they may use a telephone interpreting service to translate what you say.
- If you are Deaf or hard of hearing the police will provide an interpreter for you.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community liaison officers are employed to foster mutual understanding between the police and Aboriginal communities. If you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the police may contact the liaison officer in your area to help explain your legal rights and talk to police and government agencies on your behalf.
- There are gay and lesbian police liaison officers across the state who can help you with support and advice. Call the police switchboard and ask for the gay and lesbian liaison officer at your local police station. The role is additional to their other police duties, so you may need to persevere to contact them.
Have questions or concerns about sexual abuse prosecution in Australia? Let us know in the comments section below.
If you would like to know more about the process of reporting to police in your state, or whom to get in contact with, we’ve collected some useful links here. This info will help you to get in touch with the relevant department of your state police service, or your government funded “Victims of Crime” service. Both are pledged to support you through this.
|Adult sexual assault program
|Reporting sexual assault to police
|Support for victims of crime
|Sexual abuse and assault
|Sexual Assault Disclosure Scheme: National alternative reporting option supporting adult survivors in their disclosures to police
|Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse Helpline: 1800 657 380
New South Wales
|NSW Police: Adult sexual assault
|NSW Victims Services: Sexual assault
|VIC Police: Sexual assault
|VIC Victims of Crime: Sexual assault
|SA Victim Support Service
|WA Police: Sexual Assault
|WA Victims of Crime: Sexual Assault
|NT Police: Report sexual assault
|NT Victims of Crime
|ACT Victims of Crime
|TAS Victims Support Services
Acknowledgements: This page was developed with reference to NSW Rape Crisis Information Sheet – ‘Reporting to Police’.