Know Your Rights
and Your Constraints
As a survivor of rape or sexual assault, you have certain rights under the laws of your state. Check with a local justice center or your local bar association
to get information on their legal aid support to better understand your local rights.
In some states, there are laws that prevent you from bringing legal action after a certain number of years have passed. You can find information on states’ statutes of limitations for assault
and for sexual harassment or coercion
Document on Your Own Terms
If you do not feel it is the right time to go to law enforcement, you may choose instead to capture sensitive and private details of the event in other ways, such as writing, video, and photos. Keep your documentation in a very safe place so that you are in control of when and how these details are shared and so that you can continue to own your story.
• Document communications. Document messages, chats, emails, or screenshots that can support your case.
• Capture what happened in writing, with details about the incident as well as what happened before and after. Include dates, exact location, names of other people present, and who you talked to. Include the date of when you created these notes.
• Take photographs. If your perpetrator left physical marks on your body—bruises, strangulation marks, bite marks, etc.—take photos.
• Share your notes and other documentation with a person of trust, such as a therapist or attorney, or put them into a vault under the care of a third party. They will be used if and when you are ready to come forward.
Report As Soon As Possible
(If You Are Ready)
If the assault just happened and you are ready to report, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Medical professionals will be able to do a full medical examination to check for any physical harm. They will also be able to conduct a forensic exam (also known as a rape kit). The exam will allow samples of the perpetrator’s DNA (hair, semen, blood) to be saved. These samples can be used as evidence if you decide to press charges.
A lot of survivors think—or are told—that it is impossible to conduct a forensic exam if you have already showered and/or changed your clothes. In fact, medical professionals can find physical evidence of the assault up to 72 hours afterwards. If you have already showered, please do not be discouraged, and call 911.
A Note About Forensic Exams
While preserving forensic evidence of the crime can be important to building a case against your assailant, these exams can be difficult experiences. Survivors have described forensic exams as retraumatizing and intrusive. If you can, please consider asking a friend to take you to the hospital and home afterwards so you feel more comfortable.
Your Journey. Your Choice.
Preparing for the Interview
• Get to know your detective. Call the police station ahead of time to schedule your interview. Once a detective is assigned to your case, take a few moments to email or call them to iron out the details of your day at the station. Having a recognizable face or voice in the room can humanize the experience.
• If you know other survivors, ask them if they would be willing to share their experience in how best to prepare. Each individual situation is different, and you know your own case best. But it can be helpful to learn from survivors who have already gone through the reporting process—even if it is only for words of encouragement.
• It’s okay to ask for help. No one should have to go through this alone. There are survivors and allies all around you. Confide in someone you trust, ask them to accompany you to the police station, and know that you are not alone.
Make It as Comfortable as Possible
• Bring a friend. Ask someone you trust to walk you to and from the police station. They can wait in the lobby or waiting area while you talk to the detectives, and make sure that you are taken care of afterwards.
• Bring a bottle of water or a snack. A big bottle of water or some food will not only quench your thirst and give you energy, but will also give you something to hold in your hands.
• Ask to take a break at any time that you need one.
• Say “I don’t recall” if you cannot remember something.
• Investigators usually have a list of questions that they ask everyone, and some may not be relevant to your situation.
• If you can, take the day off to take care of yourself.
Have a Plan
Particularly for the days following your trip to the police station, it is helpful to have a plan. If you can, schedule your interview toward the end of the week, so you can spend the weekend doing relaxing things that make you happy— such as spending time with loved ones, going on a long hike with a trusted friend, or watching your favorite movies. Give yourself something special to look forward to.
Follow Up with Law Enforcement
Detectives often work on many cases at a time. Make sure your case does not fall through the cracks by checking in with the law enforcement officer assigned to your case.