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What you need to know first - Rape and Serious Sexual Assault

At the Crown Prosecution Service, we’re responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in England and Wales. In cases of rape or serious sexual assault this means that we decide when a suspect can be charged with a criminal offence and we present the case against them in court.

Your rights as a victim

The Victims' Code published by the Ministry of Justice explains the minimum standard of support that criminal justice agencies must provide to victims.

This standard of care can be summarised as 12 rights: 

  1. To be able to understand and to be understood
  2. To have the details of the crime recorded without unjustified delay
  3. To be provided with information when reporting the crime
  4. To be referred to services that support victims and have services and support tailored to your needs
  5. To be provided with information about compensation
  6. To be provided with information about the investigation and prosecution
  7. To make a Victim Personal Statement
  8. To be given information about the trial, trial process and your role as a witness
  9. To be given information about the outcome of the case and any appeals
  10. To be paid expenses and have property returned
  11. To be given information about the offender following a conviction
  12. To make a complaint about your Rights not being met

This guide is designed to help us meet your rights by helping you to understand them and by providing information about what you can expect at each stage of the criminal justice process.

The Victims’ Commissioner has also created a Victims’ journey on her website which explains what happens at different stages of the process and your rights under the Victim’s Code.

What happens when you report an incident to the police

When you report a rape or a serious sexual assault to the police they will carry out an investigation. This means that they’ll look for all the evidence they can to understand what happened.

The police will record your description of what happened. This may be in the form of a written witness statement but more usually this will be in the form of a video recording of you giving your account to a specially trained police officer.

As part of their investigation the police will also take statements from anyone else who saw what happened or who can provide information to help the investigation. This includes a police interview with the person, or people, that you’ve reported raping or assaulting you - at this stage they are called the suspect(s).

The police investigation will also involve looking for other types of evidence like medical evidence, CCTV evidence or digital evidence such as text messages or social media posts. If the police need to collect evidence from your devices they will ask for your agreement to do this. You can read more about this in our section on using digital evidence.

Once the police consider that they have enough evidence they will pass the case to us at the CPS. If the police have completed their investigation but don’t consider that there is enough evidence they won’t pass the case to us - if this happens your police contact will explain their decision to you and let you know what options you have.

Once the police pass a case to us we will review the evidence and consider whether we can bring a prosecution - this means charging the suspect with a criminal offence and bringing them to court.

We make this decision by applying the two-stage test set out in our Code for Crown Prosecutors. You can read more about this in the section on making our decision.

We don’t investigate crimes and we can’t review a case if it isn’t sent to us by the police.

However, in cases of rape or serious sexual assault we offer the police ‘early advice’. This means that, if they ask for our advice we’ll work with them as early as possible to advise them on what kind of evidence to look for to help them build the case. Working together helps us to build strong cases as quickly and effectively as possible.

The police will keep you informed with what’s happening in your case at each stage – including if or when you may need to attend court. 

The police will assign an officer to your case as your point of contact when you report the incident – this person might be referred to the Officer in charge or ‘OIC’ for short. They will discuss with you how and when they will be in touch so you can agree what works for you. They’ll also tell you how to get in contact with them if you have questions at any point.

If you have an Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA) they can support you in your contact with the police and provide you with the updates directly if you’d prefer that. You can find out more about ISVAs in our section on what support is available to help you. 

Rape and serious sexual assault are devastating crimes and our prosecutors see every day the lasting impact they have on victims. If you've been sexually assaulted it's important to remember that it was not your fault. Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. The information in this guide is relevant to all victims of sexual violence – including women and girls and men and boys. 

We know that going through the criminal justice process can sometimes feel like it’s adding extra challenges but we want to make things as straightforward for you as possible. We’ve made a commitment to victims of rape and serious sexual offences, which explains how we will handle your case, what you can expect from us and what your rights are.

All rape and serious sexual offence cases are reviewed by our specialist ‘rape and serious sexual offences’ (RASSO) prosecutors. They are specially trained to understand the complexities of rape and sexual offences cases and the myths and stereotypes that surround them. 

Sometimes the incident you’ve reported to the police may have happened a long time ago. We’ll treat these cases in the same way as we would any other case and there’s no time limit on how long after the offence you can report the crime although the offences that we can charge someone with may be different. 

You can find out more about how we prosecute these cases on our RASSO page. This page includes videos from some of our prosecutors explaining how they’ve supported victims and worked with our criminal justice partners to bring complicated cases to court. 

Our Prosecutor’s Pledge also sets out what you can expect from us as a victim of crime.

As a victim of a sexual offence you are automatically entitled to lifelong anonymity in the press or any other publication. This means that it’s against the law for the media, or anyone else, to publish your name or anything which identifies you as having been the victim of a sexual offence. This includes sharing your name on social media.

If you become aware at any point that your identity has been shared online or published in the media, you can report this to the police and they will take action.

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