The process of reporting and investigating rape varies from country to country. In the UK, the government and police clearly set out the process that a person goes through and explains each stage in detail so you know what to expect when you initially report a rape.

As you will have read and watched on my content over the past month, although rape is one offence category it can vary from case to case. The most common type of rape is one where the victim and offender know each other. Rape can occur in relationships, amongst families, in prisons or an unknown location with an unknown offender. You can report a rape that has only just occurred or you can report a rape from an earlier time. It is up to you when you feel comfortable to report rape.

When reporting a rape, there are several stages. The first stage is your account of what happened. An officer will ask you about what has happened as soon as possible once you have reported it. Their first priority will be to check on your welfare and find out if you need any emergency medical assistance. They will ask you questions about who did it, what happened, where it happened and when it happened.

The police will then look for and arrest a suspect. The decision to make the arrest will be based on both your wishes and what the police feel is in the wider public interest. You may be taken to an area of the police station called a comfort suite if it has one. Comfort suites are dedicated rooms where victims of rape and serious sexual assault can talk in privacy and comfort.

Once you’ve given an initial account of what happened, the police may assign a dedicated officer to your case. These officers are specially trained to provide you with the help and support you need throughout the investigation and any subsequent judicial process. The police will take any physical evidence that is available and this may include taking pictures and swabs from intimate or non-intimate parts of the body.

If a suspect is arrested, they will be interviewed and evidence collected. All of the evidence will be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and will detail the circumstances surrounding the offence. A specially trained lawyer at the CPS will review all of the evidence and, together with a second ‘reviewing lawyer’, decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a trial.

If the CPS recommend a trial, the first stage will be ‘heard’ at a Magistrates’ Court. The suspect, who will be referred to in court as ‘the defendant’ will have to attend. You won’t need to attend at this stage. The police and CPS can apply to the court for ‘special measures’ that can assist you when you subsequently give your evidence in court. Special measures can include giving evidence behind a screen or via a video link from another room.

If the defendant pleads ‘not guilty’ to the crime, you will need to go to the Crown Court and appear as a witness. In this case, you will be referred to as a ‘witness for the prosecution’.

If you attend court as a witness, it is against the law for the media to use your name or give details that would make it clear who you are. Only 1.5% of rape cases reported in England and Wales lead to the suspect being charged or summoned to court (compared to 14% four years ago) and there needs to be a change.

I did a video about the psychological effects of being raped last week. Unfortunately, there are still myths that people believe about rape. A person who has been raped can be questioned in court and defence lawyers can question them to try to discredit them. Obviously, this is distressing for those who go to court. The whole process can be very daunting and knowing what to expect ahead of time can help prepare you for it.

I looked over a lot of websites about the process of what should happen, but it all lacked real emotion. I found the best account of what the process was like from an article in the cosmopolitan magazine. The article gave some positive and some negative accounts of what the process is like for someone who has been raped.

One woman who had been raped by an abusive partner found that she was having to defend herself for staying in an abusive relationship. She said:

“I used to think rapists walked free because of a lack of evidence, but that wasn’t why I hit record on my phone as I was raped. I reported the rape a few weeks later after we broke up. I told the police all I could and handed over my phone. I thought the more evidence they had, the better. When I played the police officer the recording, he said it was the most horrific thing he’d ever heard. The case went to court this year. Everyone was adamant there would be a conviction. I thought: now I’ll be safe and no one else will have to go through what I did with him. We were floored by the verdict. Under Scottish law, a case can be found not guilty, not proven or guilty. He was found not proven. That means the jury thought he was guilty, but there wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction. But what more did they need? All he had was his word – he claimed it was role play.”

In some cases of rape, it can be one word against the other. However, many people have positive experiences about reporting and prosecuting rape. Another woman wrote:

“Hearing that the verdict was ‘guilty’ was the most empowering moment of my life. I felt validated. I’d reported the assault straight away because I had to: my friend was about to marry this man. It was extraordinarily tough. I had to go over every detail with the police. Rape takes away your control, yet the police and the medical team did everything they could to give it back to me. The police said they wouldn’t stop me from jumping in the shower but added it might wash away any evidence. Then, when I was getting medical tests, they made sure I was never left on my own. In court, I gave evidence behind a screen so that the only people I could see were the judge, the barristers and the jury. I looked into all of their eyes. I didn’t have to see the man who raped me again. I wouldn’t have coped with that. The jury made their decision in 15 minutes.”

You can read the full article here: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/reports/a29338866/rape-statistics-reporting-police/

Having the support and being prepared for what may happen can make a big difference. There are many charities that offer support and guidance if you have been raped. They will not push you to report it if you don’t want to. Of course, it is not just women who are raped. Men and children can also be raped and there are specialist support services available in many countries.

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