The circumstances behind any report of rape or sexual assault are unique, so the way we investigate each one can vary. However, every investigation will start with the same steps to make sure we gather as much evidence as we can, as quickly as we can, while giving you all the support and advice you need. Find out below what happens after you report rape or sexual assault and the support available to you during the process.

Is it an emergency?

Is someone in immediate danger? Is a crime taking place or has one just happened? If so, call 999 now and ask for the police.

Your initial account

As soon as possible after you report rape or sexual assault, we’ll arrange for a uniformed officer to talk to you. Their first priority will be to check on your welfare and find out if you need any emergency medical assistance.

If you’re comfortable talking about what happened, the officer will have four main questions:

  • Who did this?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?

We understand you may not be able to answer all of these. However, the more you can tell us, the better our chances of identifying the suspect.

The suspect

If we can identify and locate the suspect, we’ll usually arrest them. Our decision to make the arrest will be based on both your wishes and what we feel is in the wider public interest. If we believe there is a continued threat, either to you or the public, we will act. We cannot risk anyone else getting hurt.

Comfort suites

Comfort suites are dedicated rooms where victims of rape and serious sexual assault can talk to us in privacy and comfort. Some are located within police stations. We recognise that some areas of police stations can seem uninviting or intimidating, so we’ve designed our comfort suites to be peaceful, private places where victims can feel at ease.

The investigation process

Once you've given an initial account of what happened, we may assign a Sexual Offence Investigative Technique (SOIT) 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.

Your SOIT officer

Your Sexual Offence Investigative Technique (SOIT) officer will be a single point of contact throughout the investigation. They will explain to you what is happening at each step, answer any questions you might have and, with your consent, refer you through to specialist support advocacy services, such as the Havens and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (see below).

One of the SOIT officer’s first tasks will be to take a detailed account from you. This can be in the form of a written statement or a visually recorded interview. They’ll talk through both of these options with you beforehand.

As a general rule, your SOIT officer will keep you informed of how the investigation is going at least every 28 days or sooner if there are any updates.

Your officer in the case

An officer in the case (OIC) is a plain clothes constable who has specialist training in the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences. An OIC will be assigned to your case with the responsibility of investigating and securing all the evidence.

One such task will be to take a statement from the ‘first complainant’. This is the first person to whom you disclosed what happened to you – usually a friend, colleague, police officer or someone else that you trust.

The OIC will liaise closely with your SOIT officer to make sure you are kept updated throughout the investigation.

The Havens

Based on your individual needs, we make referrals on your behalf to a whole host of agencies working independently of the police. One example is the Havens.

The Havens are specialist centres in London for victims of rape or serious sexual assault. Their role is first and foremost to help you both physically and emotionally.

Either the uniformed officer you first speak to or your SOIT officer can take you to a Haven and wait with you while you’re there. Depending on the circumstances of your assault, a sexual offence examiner may take swabs from both intimate and non-intimate parts of the body. They will also document any physical injuries and may photograph non-intimate injuries. The staff may also ask for the clothes you were wearing, in order to gather any forensic evidence.

Once the examination is complete, the SOIT or uniformed officer will take you home or to a place of safety.

If you don’t want to report what has happened to the police, or aren’t ready to speak to police, you can contact the Havens directly. Find out more on our Support for victims of rape and sexual assault page.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

Once the suspect has been arrested and interviewed and all of the evidence has been collected, the OIC will pass all of the evidence 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. The CPS will then notify the OIC of the decision.

Going to court

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.

Giving evidence

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’.

Preparing for the day

It’s natural to feel a little nervous about going to court, but your SOIT officer and/or your ISVA will be on hand to support you all the way through the trial.

They can arrange a court visit before the day so that you can familiarise yourself with the layout of the courtroom.

Protecting your anonymity

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.