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What happens when you report sexual abuse to the police?

Hi Sam,

I was wondering what happens if you report sexual abuse to the police? I know that the police can't just go and arrest said person but i'm wondering what the steps are? Will the person be believed? How long it takes?

I'm also wondering where the proof will come from? If you have no evidence of sexual abuse, how can the police deal with the abuser?

Ask Sam

Sam

Hi there,

Sexual abuse is a serious crime that the police will want to know about. The police are there to help you and will take what you say seriously. There are some different things they might do, depending on how long it's been since the abuse happened or the kind of things the abuser did to you.

Talking about sexual abuse can be tough and you might feel lots of difficult emotions. Sexual abuse can make some people feel frightened or powerless and this may make it harder to open up. The police can also seem intimidating sometimes because they are an authority figure - but if you’re the victim of a crime, they’re there to help you. It’s important to remember that sexual abuse is never your fault, and you haven’t done anything wrong.

There are some different steps the police might take if you tell them you’ve been sexually abused. They may interview you to have some evidence of the crime. This means they’ll write down or record what you say happened, and this might then be used later in a court if things go that far. You always have a right to have someone talk on your behalf and to help you. You might have a social worker with you to help.

If the abuse happened very recently, like if someone was raped and they report it straight away, the police may ask you to do some tests so they can get physical evidence of the crime. This means a specially trained person, like a doctor, will examine you and take things like DNA swabs. If you’ve been sexually abused and plan on reporting it straight away it's important not to take a shower or wash the clothes you were wearing as there might be evidence that the police can use against your abuser.

Some sexual abuse is not physical, or it might have happened a long time ago or over a long period of time. But there might be evidence on your phone, laptop or other devices that can be used. If the person who abuses you is someone you live with you’ll probably get a social worker to help you and your family to stay safe from any more harm.

If you don't feel ready to tell the police straight away you can always talk to any other adult that you trust. Remember that what's happened isn't your fault and you’re not responsible for how the adults you talk to feel about what's happened. The most important thing is that you get support, so choose someone you trust and let them know what's been happening. If you find it difficult to talk about it, try explaining it in a letter and giving this to someone you trust.

Remember that if you talk to someone like a teacher at school, they might not be able to keep what you say between you and them. Childline counsellors can do that, so if you are unsure you can always talk to Childline first.

I hope this has answered your questions. Thanks for your letter.

Take care,

Sam

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