Options and Next Steps
You are not required to report your assault to the police or any person.
Some people report a sexual assault right away; some do not immediately report but change their minds and report later; and some decide never to report at all. Whatever decision you make is yours alone to decide. However, it is worth exploring all of your options.
There are four reasons why you need medical attention:
- To receive the support that you need and to take the first step towards regaining control of your life.
- To ensure that you receive the medical care that you need. You may have injuries that you cannot yet see or feel.
- To be tested for and to discuss preventing certain sexually transmitted infections. To be given the option of taking emergency contraceptive pills which reduce the risk of pregnancy.
- To collect physical evidence that will be used if you decide to pursue prosecution. Due to advancements in DNA testing, often the most valuable evidence for sexual assault cases is found on your body and clothes. This is why it is very important that evidence be collected as soon as possible, as it can be destroyed as time passes.
Medical personnel are required to contact law enforcement if they suspect a sexual assault has occurred. However, once the police arrive, it is your choice whether or not you want to talk with them. Reporting the assault to the police and having the forensic medical exam doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind later about pursuing prosecution.
You are the only one who can decide if and how to make a crime report.
Remember that you do not have to go through this alone – a rape crisis counselor/advocate or friend can support you while you make your decision. To help you, consider the following advantages and disadvantages of reporting.
Advantages to reporting:
- If you report the crime, it will go on record and might help to establish a pattern of criminal behavior committed by the rapist. The vast majority of rapists rape many times before they are caught; they are repeat offenders. Also, your report may help to substantiate another survivor’s report against the rapist.
- You will be eligible for financial help through the Victim Compensation Program provided by the State of California.
- You can request assistance from rape crisis counselor/advocates to accompany you through all aspects of the criminal justice proceedings: the evidentiary exam, law enforcement interviews, district attorney interviews, court appearances, and any other related appointments for which you would like support.
- You are exercising your rights! In doing so, you are empowering yourself to take back the control that was taken from you. Many survivors feel that actively trying to bring the rapist to justice is an important part of their healing process.
Disadvantages to Reporting:
1. It may be difficult for you to repeat your story multiple times to law enforcement and in court.
2. The district attorney has the right to decide whether or not to proceed with the case based on his/her evaluation of the evidence and whether or not s/he feels a jury would decide unanimously to convict the rapist. A decision not to file charges against the rapist does not mean that the D.A. and police don’t believe you. You have the right to discuss your concerns with the D.A. and know the reasons why your case was not filed.
3. Most cases do not go to trial because the D.A. decides not to file charges or the case is settled out of court. This does not mean that your particular case will not go to trial!
4. The court process can be long and emotionally draining, and you might feel that this is not the right time in your life to go through such a difficult experience.
The Order of Events in a Criminal Proceeding:
- You file a crime report with law enforcement.
- A detective is assigned to your case, and will contact you to interview you directly.
- The detective will investigate your case by searching the scene of the crime, interviewing witnesses, and analyzing any other relevant evidence. Depending on the case circumstances, the detective may interview the rapist directly.
- You may look at mug shots (also called “six packs”) or assist in making a composite picture.
- The rapist may be arrested.
- You may be asked to identify the rapist in a line-up.
- Law enforcement presents the case to the district attorney.
- You may be interviewed by the district attorney’s office.
- District attorney decides whether there is enough admissible evidence to file charges on the case.
- Rapist is arraigned in Municipal Court (you may not be required to attend).
- If the rapist pleads “not guilty,” a preliminary hearing is set and you may be subpoenaed to appear at this hearing. The hearing should take place ten days after the rapist is arrested.
- If the Municipal Court judge decides there is enough evidence for a trial, the case may go to Superior Court.
- The rapist is arraigned in Superior Court, or if the rapist pleads guilty, s/he is charged and sentenced.
- Jury trial in which you will most likely testify as a witness for the People of the State of California.
- Acquittal or sentencing