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Justice Home > Victims services & support > Help for victims of sexual assault

Victims Access Line 1800 633 063 Aboriginal Contact Line 1800 019 123 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm)

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The investigation

Once the sexual assault is reported to police there is a process of investigation. If the sexual assault happened in the past police will handle the matter in a similar way to a recent assault, except that a forensic medical examination may not be conducted.


The complaint and statement

When you report the crime to the police, it is referred to as 'the complaint'. Once your complaint is lodged the police will then ask you to make 'a statement'.

The first step in the process of reporting the crime to police - the police refer to this report as 'the complaint'. Your complaint will give brief details and an initial record of the crime. The police will discuss options with you, and you can decide whether you wish to proceed with an investigation and make a statement.

Having received the report, a detective specially trained to work with victims of sexual assault will be assigned to the case.

The detective will usually start investigating the sexual assault by talking to the victim of the crime. The details of what is said are typed up as a statement, which is a detailed account of the assault. Sometimes the statement will be recorded electronically and will be used as evidence in the court proceedings. A statement will be recorded in your own words and read back to you. You can change or add to it before you sign it.

You can take a support person with you and you can ask to speak with either a female or a male police officer.

A statement can take some time to complete. You can ask to have a break or stop if you become upset.

Your statement becomes the basis of the police investigation and can become a key part of any court proceedings.

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Gathering evidence and medical examination

The police will conduct an investigation and gather evidence relevant to the case. The investigation may include examining the crime scene for evidence and talking to any other people or witnesses who may be able to give some information about what occurred.

They may also arrange for you to have a forensic medical examination. This examination is to identify and collect any physical evidence and collect specimens that may be used as evidence if criminal charges are laid.

Reporting to police is the first stage in the criminal justice process. It may not result in the person being charged or a prosecution.

Forensic medical examination

A forensic examination is a special medical examination that can only be conducted by specially trained doctors and nurses, which is arranged via the NSW Health Sexual Assault Services. Its purpose is to collect any physical evidence and specimens that may be used as evidence if criminal charges are laid. This is done best within 72 hours of the sexual assault, but can be done up to a week after, depending upon the assault. The results of the forensic examination can be kept up to 3 months, while you decide if you want to proceed with legal action.

The doctor may ask you what happened so that he/she knows what specimens to collect and to examine those parts of your body which may have been affected by the sexual assault. The doctor may take swabs and hair samples depending on the assault.

If you feel uncomfortable during the examination, it can be stopped at any time. Samples will only be taken, if you agree. You can have a support person present.

Your clothes may also need to be used as evidence and need to be analysed forensically, and will be sealed and collected with the specimens for further investigation by the police. Remember that the police will only collect this material with your signed consent.

If you are unsure whether you want to proceed with the investigation, any evidence collected will be held with the Sexual Assault Service for up to three months until you have made your decision.


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Your rights and victim support

You have rights when talking to the police. Police are required to treat you with respect and courtesy and sensitivity. Your privacy is to be respected.

If you have made a police statement but then decide that you do not want police action, you need to tell the police. You will be asked to sign a form, which indicates that you do not want to proceed with the investigation. You are able to reactivate the investigation, if you change your mind, however, if you leave it too long, it may affect the investigation.

Victims Cards are given out by police officers to victims of crime, and victims' relatives or friends.

This card shows the officer's name and details to make it easier for you to contact them. The card also has information about victim's rights and how to contact the Victims Access Line at Victims Services for information, support or referral.

Police will contact you as the investigation progresses. Their Customer Service Program and Charter explains the commitments police give to victims of crime.

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Arrest and identification

When someone is suspected of committing a sexual assault, they may be asked to attend an interview, or may be arrested and taken to a police station. They are then called a "person of interest". The person of interest may then be questioned and, if there is enough evidence, they will be charged. In serious matters, such as sexual assault, they may record the interview on audio or videotape. As part of the investigation, a victim or other witness may be asked to identify the person who is suspected of committing the crime. In most cases this is done by looking at photographs on a computer, and in rare circumstances will use an identification parade.

The police officer in charge of the investigation decides to charge the offender based on the evidence that has been gathered.

Sometimes, the police officer may seek legal advice from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which is responsible for prosecuting serious crimes in NSW. You have a right to be told if the offender has been charged or if a decision has been made not to charge or prosecute.

There are some circumstances where charges are not laid, but this does not mean that the police do not believe you or that they have not taken the assault seriously.

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After a person has been charged, the police decide if the person should stay in custody or released on bail. Considering community safety and whether the charged person, now called the 'accused', will turn up to court for the hearing at the nominated date, influences whether or not bail is granted.

Bail can be considered at two points - either by the police when a person is charged or at court by a Magistrate. An application for bail or review of bail can also be made to the Supreme Court. If the accused doesn't turn up, they can be arrested.

Bail may be granted on certain conditions. For example, it is usual to ask the accused or some other person to pay or agree to pay some money to the court to make sure the accused turns up. In other cases, it may be a condition of bail that the accused does not contact the victim or other witnesses. Both surety and conditions can also be applied. If bail is refused, the police must take the person to court as soon as practicable for bail to be reconsidered. In most cases the person is taken to the nearest local court.

You should tell the police or the prosecutor if you fear for your safety. This is one of the issues considered when deciding whether to release the person on bail.
If police cannot find enough evidence or identify the accused:

  • police will record that the assault took place and keep any information or evidence that they have gathered. It does not mean that they don't believe you; it means that the police could not meet the legal test for taking the case to court.
  • they will tell you if no further action can be taken. This can be very distressing for people, and it may help to talk this over with a support agency or counsellor.

If the sexual assault happened to a child or young person

Reports of children being sexually assaulted are investigated in a similar way to reports of adults being sexually assaulted . However, there are some special procedures in place that must happen when children and young people are involved, to ensure their protection.

The Community Services Helpline refers reports of children and young people sexual assault to the JIRT Referral Unit (JRU). This unit is made up of staff from Community Services, NSW Police Force and NSW Health. Managers from the three agencies review all available information and together decide whether the report should be investigated by a local Joint Investigation Response Team (JIRT) or may be investigated by the police.

The Joint Investigation Response Team (JIRT) consists of workers from the NSW Police Force,  Community Services and NSW Health.  They work on serious child abuse cases. This is where a child or young person has been

  • touched or harmed in a sexual way by someone aged over 10 years
  • badly hurt by being hit, strangled, burned or starved by someone over 10 years
When a child or young person is reported to Community Services about sexual assault:
  • JIRT talks to the child and young person to find out what has happened
  • JIRT acts to make the child or young person safe (if the child or young person is in immediate danger).

JIRT police officers find out if the law has been broken and if they can take the law-breaker to court.

JIRT Community Services caseworkers help the child or young person and their family keep them safe. They may do things like finding a safe place for them to live, or help them get into a support program

JIRT Health staff are counsellors who listen to and support the child, young person and family. They make arrangements for the child to see a doctor or nurse if they need to , who may conduct any, if needed.