Investigation and prosecution

Part of: Victims of rape and sexual assault

Find out more about the investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assault cases.

Reporting an offence to the police

If you are the victim of rape or sexual assault and you decide to involve the police, do this as soon as possible so that forensic evidence can be gathered from your clothes and body.  

For this reason try not to

  • wash yourself (but if you do, wipe yourself with tissues first and keep these; don’t use household cleaning products, such as bleach, to wash yourself)
  • change or wash any clothes you were wearing. - if you do, keep these for the police investigation
  • eat or drink anything
  • take any alcohol or drugs
  • go to the toilet (if you do, keep any tissues you use - also keep any sanitary protection)

Your first contact could be with any officer but you will very quickly be seen by a police officer who is specially trained in working with people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. They know that rape and sexual assault is distressing and traumatic, and they will be as sensitive as possible while continuing to investigate the crime.

If you need emergency medical help, the police will arrange for you to get this.

The main role of the police is to investigate what happened. They do this by gathering evidence. This may include tracing witnesses. Depending on the evidence available, they will arrest and charge the suspect(s). The police will keep you updated about the case and explain any decisions made.

If the police cannot identify the attacker, they will record that the assault took place and keep any evidence and information they have gathered. They will tell you if no further action can be taken. If this happens, it does not mean that you were not believed or that the assault was not taken seriously.

Giving information (a statement) to the police

A police officer will ask you questions about the assault. This is to:

  • build up a picture of what happened
  • find out about your attacker
  • check if you think anyone else saw or heard anything

Some questions may seem awkward and difficult but are necessary for the police to take the case to the next stage.

Your statement needs to be as detailed as possible, so it may take a long time to complete. Take as much time as you need.

Forensic examination

If the assault was recent, you will be asked if you are willing to have a forensic examination by a doctor who works for the police. This is to gather evidence and note any injuries to help investigate what happened. You do not have to agree to this.

Forensic examinations are done by ordinary doctors (GPs) with special training. You can ask to be seen by a male or female doctor and the police will do their best to provide this. The doctor will do everything they can to make you feel as comfortable as possible.

You can ask for the examination to stop at any time.

Prosecution process

Evidence and other information gathered during the course of the police investigation will be submitted to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). The PPS will then decide if the suspect should be prosecuted and, if so, for what criminal offence.

The PPS has specialist Community Liaison Teams (CLTs) who

  • provide pro-active information and support services to victims and witnesses
  • will contact you once a decision has been made whether to prosecute or not prosecute
  • will also keep you informed of the progress of the case at key milestones in the prosecution process

PPS staff can tell you how the court system works and about progress in the case, for example, court dates, bail applications and any decisions taken.

It is important to remember that a case must be proved to a very high standard (beyond reasonable doubt) to secure a criminal conviction.


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