Question: I was raped 10mo ago by my (then) boyfriend. I want to go to the police, but I don’t know what all that involves and if I could emotionally handle it. Could you walk me through what all would happen if I did go to the police and report it? I have text messages from him saying he would kill himself if I went to the police, and a recorded Skype conversation of him essentially admitting to raping me, but no witnesses. I want to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else like he hurt me.
Answer: Hey Anon. I am happy to walk you through this but please know that this is just my experience in one city and depending on where you live you may face a different experience. Heck, even in different police departments in San Diego I have witnessed widely different reactions and protocols from department to department or even officer to officer. I am also going to be really honest with you not to deter you from reporting but so that you’re prepared for possible things that could come up in reporting.
I want to start with a depressing fact: only about 3% of rape cases that get reported end up going forward to see some kind of prosecution. I say this because I think it’s important to think about your motivation for reporting. Obviously the hope is that your case is one of those 3% and that your reporting will prevent him from doing this to someone else. But if your case isn’t one of those 3%, how are you going to feel? For some people, it’s really cathartic to speak your truth no matter what the outcome. And in many cases, it at least becomes documented that they were the suspect in a rape investigation so that if they have a history of sexual assault or if they assault someone in the future, a case against them becomes stronger. That alone can be motivation enough. I just think it’s important to think through these things because if your main motivation for reporting is about him never doing this to someone else, know that that may not be the outcome.
After you’ve had a conversation with yourself about reporting, if you decide to move forward my first suggestion would be to see if you can get an advocate from a local rape crisis center to go with you to make a report if that is an option available to you. They would have a lot of knowledge of local protocols for late reports and would be able to be with you for support when you make the report.
Typically when I would go with people making late reports we would go to the police station together. Because these are considered non-emergencies they are typically lower on the priority list but it’s likely to be faster if you go in person than if you call a non-emergency line and wait for them to come to you. Be aware that it is less private if you go to a station because front desk people sometimes have a hard time with discretion. If doing it from home or a safe place feels like a better option to you, that’s totally fine just be prepared to wait for a while. You may be able to request an officer of a particular gender if that would make you feel more comfortable but they may or may not accommodate that request. Also note that if you’re brought into an interview room, you’re likely being video and/or audio recorded so anything you say in that space becomes something the officers know about.
When you meet with an officer, they should take you to a private room to take a report. If for some reason they don’t, you can request that of them. They will collect your basic information. Then they will ask you to walk them through what happened. They will likely ask some detailed questions including specifics about what kinds of sex acts were involved in the assault. If you don’t remember or if you don’t know the answer, it is perfectly acceptable to tell them that. Your only job is to tell them the truth and if the truth is you don’t remember or your don’t know, that’s totally ok.
You will also likely face the question of why you waited to report this for 10 months. Those of us who have complex understandings of trauma understand why people wait to report or choose to never report at all. But the system often views it with skepticism. Especially in domestic violence cases where the concern is that you’re only reporting it now as a means of getting back at the person or to try to get the upperhand in a family court case if you had one. I say this not to deter you but just so you can prepare yourself for the question of why you waited. Waiting is a totally valid and common thing to do, especially in the face of someone threatening to kill themselves if you report, but know that some law enforcement will view it skeptically and it’s something that will come up later down the road if your case progresses.
Once they take the report, it should get assigned to a detective. The detective should follow up with you and ask you to come in for an interview which will be similar to the report but will involve even more detail. They will definitely ask you for all of the specifics about the various crimes that were committed and each sex act counts as a different crime so they get very detailed.
Depending on where you live, the skype conversation may or may not be admissible as evidence. There are laws in certain cities and states that prevent recordings where the person didn’t know they were being recorded from being used as evidence. The text message would absolutely be admissible as would any other written communications from him about it. Detectives have other ways of gathering evidence in late report cases where there aren’t witnesses.
I don’t know if you want me to go into what happens after the police portion or if this was what you were looking for. Remember that some people have really positive experiences with the officer they report to and some have really terrible experiences. This is a rough guide of how it should go but be prepared for unexpected things to happen or for an officer to treat you poorly because those things happen sometimes. That’s part of why I strongly recommend bringing an advocate with you if that’s possible for you because they are better able to help make sure your rights are being respected and that you have emotional support. Please let me know if you have any other questions and I hope this was helpful.