Legal information for women aged 16 and over: reporting to the police and going to court
Updated August 2012What happens when you report to the police?
What happens next?
What happens if the case is not proceeded with?
What happens if the case gets to court?
Useful contact numbers
● The legal definition of ‘rape’ is when a man uses his penis to penetrate someone’s vagina, anus or mouth without their consent (the person did not agree to it). ‘Attempted rape’ is when a man tries to rape someone but does not manage to.
● The term ‘sexual assault’ covers a range of offences which someone might be charged with where they, without consent or any reasonable belief they consented: sexually penetrate the vagina, anus or mouth; sexually touch the victim or engage in any other form of sexual activity which resulted in physical contact.
● If you decide to report to the police, you can ask to speak to a female officer. You can take a friend, relative or support worker from an organisation such as ours, with you if you want to. S/he will not be able to stay with you when you are giving your statement, however, they should be able to be with you if you have a medical examination. Please note that if they are a witness to the crime they will not be able to be with you during the examination.
● If you are unsure whether you want to report to the police, you may consider ‘remote reporting’ through EWRASAC. This means that you can report the crime in confidence to us, and we will then contact the police on your behalf. If you wish to remain anonymous then the information will be added to the police intelligence database and no further action will be taken. Whatever your decision about reporting, we will support you.
● If the incident has just happened, try not to wash or change your clothing, and try not to eat or drink anything as this can destroy forensic evidence. The police will probably keep what you are wearing so if you can, take a change of clothes and shoes with you.
● Depending on where the incident took place, the police may want to gather additional evidence such as bed clothes.
● All incidents in Edinburgh are dealt with by the Amethyst Team, formerly known as the Family Protection Unit (FPU). This is a specialist service, based at the Gyle, and Amethyst Team officers are specially trained to deal with sexual assault cases. You can contact them on 0131 316 6600. If the incident happened in East or Midlothian it will be dealt with by a local Public Protection Unit (PPU), and in West Lothian by Operation Federal. You can find their numbers below.
● The police will then take a detailed statement from you. You will then have the opportunity to read and change any of the details or add anything you missed, before signing it. Take as much time as you need. Your statement is confidential. Your statement will then be passed on to CID and they will interview the accused.
● If you remember something else after you have signed your statement – don’t worry. This is common. Call the investigating officer and let them know what you have remembered as it can still be added to your statement. You should be given a named officer to contact.
● If you are considering withdrawing your complaint, it is important to note that if you say you made it up as a way of stopping proceedings, it is a real possibility that you will then be charged with wasting police time. You should be able to withdraw without saying you made it up.
● If the assault is recent you may be given a forensic examination by a police surgeon in a specialist unit. In Edinburgh, this is based with the Amethyst Team at the Gyle (in other areas it may be done at your local hospital). Photographs of any injuries will be taken and you may be asked to go back the next day, as some bruising does not show up immediately.
● If you can, it is a good idea to write your own notes of what happened to you. It could take up to a year for a case to get to court, and your notes will refresh your memory about what you said.
● If you are unsure about whether you want report to the police but would like to have the option to report in the future you can travel to the Archway Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Glasgow for a forensic medical examination by a specialist female doctor/nurse. They will take forensic evidence and check for STIs. Archway is for anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted in the last 7 days aged 13 and over. If you are over the age of 16, you do not need to report to the police unless you want to. They are based at 6 Sandyford Place, Glasgow G3 7NB and you can contact them on 0141 211 8175.
● If the attacker is traced, and investigations lead to him being charged, a report is passed to the Procurator Fiscal (PF). The PF will decide whether or not to take things further. It is the PF who actually brings the charges, not you, if s/he decides that there is a case for the accused to answer. It is important to note that you cannot decide to withdraw your evidence at this point.
● In most cases, the attacker will get bail. He will be warned not to approach you. If he does, contact the police at once.
● If you do not want your address to be made known to the accused or his solicitors, you should ask the PF to ensure that your address is given as care of the police station that has dealt with your case. Your name will be disclosed to the defence but your address will be given as care of the police station.
● If the PF decides to prosecute the accused, your details will be referred to Victim Information and Advice (VIA). They are a specialist service which can offer information and advice to you about how the Criminal Justice System works. You will receive a letter from them which will have a contact name and telephone number which you should keep hold off in case you need to contact them. They will keep you updated about the progress of your case and you can phone VIA or the Fiscal’s Office at any time to check what is happening with your case.
● If the accused’s first appearance in court was on or after 6 June 2011, you may be able to read to your police statement prior to the court case. This can be helpful due to the time delays which can occur between giving the statement and going to court. VIA will let you know if this is an option in your case, or alternatively you can ask VIA or the Fiscal if you can see your statement.
● Women are often concerned about their medical or other sensitive records being accessed by the prosecution or defence during an investigation or prosecution. The Crown Office have produced a leaflet to try and answer some of these concerns – you can read it here.
● Amethyst Team/PPU staff should stay in contact with you throughout the process, including the trial, if there is one.
● In cases where it is decided that a prosecution will not take place, you will receive a letter from the PF advising you of their decision. If you wish, a meeting can be arranged to enable you to discuss this matter further with the PF. However, you may not be informed of the reasons why proceedings are not being taken. This information is confidential and the PF may not be at liberty to disclose their reasons to you. It does not necessarily mean that you have not been believed, but rather that there was not enough evidence to proceed.
● If the trial is to go ahead you will receive notification that you must appear as a witness to give evidence for the prosecution. This is called a citation.
● Cases of rape and other serious sexual offences are heard in the High Court. Other offences are heard either in the High Court or Sheriff Court. The difference between the two is the power they have for sentencing.
● You may find it helpful to visit and familiarise yourself with the court before the trial. This can be arranged by the Fiscal Office, VIA or the Witness Service.
● In court you will be a witness for the prosecution, the same as if you witnessed a crime. You are not represented by a lawyer. The PF will act on your behalf. The case can last a couple of days or more. It could be postponed once or even a few times.
● You only have to attend to give your evidence. If the accused pleads guilty you will not have to appear, but this may not happen until the last minute. Often there are long periods of waiting and confusion. If you made your own notes, read them through beforehand.
● Be prepared for a number of people to be present in court when you give evidence. Members of the public however, will be cleared from the court while you give your evidence and the press should not publish your name or address. The accused will be present in court while you give your evidence.
● If the accused is found Guilty he will be sentenced. There is a three to five year maximum sentence in the Sheriff’s Court, but no upper limit in the High Court. If the accused is sentenced for four or more years you should receive a letter from the PF asking if you want to opt into the Victim Notification scheme. This means that you would be informed when your attacker is released from prison. You can opt into this at any time and can also opt out at any point.
● If the verdict comes back as Not Proven this means there has not been enough evidence to convict him and he will be released. You cannot appeal against this decision.
● You may be entitled to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). You can claim Criminal Injuries Compensation if you have reported the attack to the police. The case does not need to have been proceeded with nor is a conviction necessary. Please note that a claim has to be within 2 years of the incident. Claim forms, guides to applications and information are available from the CICA at 0141 331 2726.
The Scottish Government have updated their comprehensive information booklet or rape and sexual assault which is full of practical information and good advice. Download the booklet here or contact us for a copy.
Victim Support Scotland
Lothian and Borders Police
Public Protection Units
Criminal Injuries Compensation Board
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
Chalmers Sexual Health Clinic