what happens when you report a rape?
November 3, 2006 12:46 PM   Subscribe

What can I expect if I report a rape to the police?

I'm considering reporting a rape that happened a few days ago to the police, and I would like to know before I do what is going to happen. If you have any experience with something like this or have known someone who did, please tell me how it all works. How will the police treat me? What will they want to know? What kind of evidence will they ask for? I know its not supposed to happen but isthere any chance my name will get out? If they arrest the man who raped me, will they let him out on bail? Will it go to trial? How long would that take? What would a trial be like? What are the chances he'll be convicted? I basically don't know anything about this and I have a really hard time getting involved in stuff when I don't know how it works.

I'm worried particularly that their isn't enough evidence for anything to come out of this, and that it will be a lot of trouble for no gain. I'm not really physically hurt, though I have a few bruises. I've showered sevaral times since it happened but I saved my unwashed underwear, which has some semen on it. The man who attacked me was a friend and I was hanging out with him voluntarily. So if he were to say that what happened was consensual I think it would come down to his word versus my word, and that seems like very weak proof. But I realize I don't even know how much proof is usually needed for something like this. I live in the upper-midwestern US, if that helps at all.

I DO NOT want to hear about how if I don't report it he's going to rape someone else. I am well aware of the ethical arguments and am taking them into consideration very seriously. Please be respectful.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd seriously recommend you go with someone who supports you. Tell someone and don't go alone.
Beyond getting someone you know contact RAINN for advice. Do this now. They have people who can give you more accurate help for where you are than I can.
I'm sorry this happened to you. Take care of yourself.
posted by Sara Anne at 1:02 PM on November 3, 2006

I can't answer all of your questions, but here's what I do know about: If you report the rape to police, there will be a police file, and eventually your name will be a matter of public record. That's not the same as having it be publicly known, however. Someone would specifically have to be looking through physical paper documents, most likely, to come across your name. Same is true if it goes to court.

Although your name may become a matter of public record, that does not mean that everyone will know. The only people who look at most police records, generally, are law enforcement and news media. No U.S. newspaper, radio station or TV station will publish your name, unless you're making accusations against a celebrity -- and in that case, pretty much only sleaze media would publish info about you.

I don't know the details of how the investigation will go, but you can expect the police to contact the man you are accusing.

Will it go to trial? A lot depends on the investigation, and whether any additional evidence comes forward. A lot also depends on the specific laws of where you live, and the specific decisions of the prosecutor in your jurisdiction. If it's just "he said, she said," the odds of a finding of guilt are pretty minimal. But the underwear add an element of evidence. And it's quite surprising how many criminals say things to implicate themselvse when interviewed by police.

Finally, I have heard -- and I can't provide evidence for this -- that for many victims of rape, reporting the crime and pursuing prosecution is a big part of what helps them learn to move past the crime. Even if the perpetrator gets off , many women say that the experience of reporting the crime and gonig through the trial allows them to move on to the next phase of recovery.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:07 PM on November 3, 2006

Response by poster: I would go to the hospital and get a rape kit done now. You need pictures of the bruises, documentation of any tears in the vaginal wall/damage to the labia, the whole nine yards. You may not see huge bruises, but there are small things that point to rough activity in the area.

There is a time limit on reporting rapes--not that you can't, but the longer you let it go the less likely the conviction.

I'm sorry, I can't give you any information about the police process. But I wish you good luck and I'm sorry this happened to you--you seem to be strong and intelligent (keeping the underwear shows a clarity of thought not many of us possess) and I hope you find healing, through whatever method necessary.
posted by Anonymous at 1:13 PM on November 3, 2006

Response by poster: That should be *can't after a certain time period . . .
posted by Anonymous at 1:14 PM on November 3, 2006

From my experience dealing with the police process as a defense attorney, what I can tell you is "it depends"--all of this, how you'll be treated, what questions you'll be asked, whether anyone will take you seriously is so heavily dependent upon which officer you talk to, how you look, how you sound, the culture of that particular police station, that I'm not sure anyone can really tell you what to expect.

Whether or not the accused is arrested, given bail, taken to trial is also wholly dependent upon factors you really can't control. The State's Attorney and defense attorney who become involved, should it even go that far, might be able to predict that and the State's Attorney (assuming she's competent and very diligent and not overwhelmed on that given day) should brief you fully on her expectations each step of the way, but she probably won't.

Anyway. In the two criminal systems I've worked in (one Eastern US, the other Midwestern US) typically when a person reports, she's interviewed by one or more detectives; sometimes in an interview room, sometimes in a lobby, sometimes over the phone. The officers will then do some follow-up investigation (in this case, likely interview the accused and ship any evidence to forensics, where it will sit for an extremely long time before anyone touches it, if they ever do). Then, eventually, the officer will present the case to the felony-review attorney assigned to that duty that month. The felony-review attorney reads the report, the interviews, and looks over any other paper work the police have in that file and makes a determination whether or not to recommend the case for prosecution. Then the attorney who supervises felony review either agrees or disagrees. If it's a go, charges are filed.

At that point, a warrant is issued for the accused, who will eventually be arrested. Arraignments happen fairly quickly and some defendants are released immediately after arraignment, pending trial. If your accused is middle-class, well-employed, with no record and the case amounts to your word against his in a social setting, chances are very good he'll be arrested, arraigned and released in well under 24 hours. Those chances do go up if he's white. He'll likely be admonished by the court (and definitely by the public defender, if she's any good at her job) to stay as far as possible away from you and keep his damn mouth shut about the whole thing.

Then, there's a couple of ways it can play out. The SA might find something in the record, or you might say something, or a defense witness might crawl out of the woodwork and the case will be nolle prossequi (the State declares it will proceed no further with the case; in most jurisdictions, this means they can reinstate the case later, but they don't have enough to go on now and they don't want to risk the acquittal). The State might choose to proceed.

The case could easily plead out and if it does, it will be a minimal charge. You will not be required to appear in court at all if the case pleads. A plea hearing consists of the two attorneys and the defendant. The SA then reads the charges and says "If we were to proceed, we would provide this witness who would say this and that witness who would say that." The Court then asks the defense if that's accurate; the defense says yes. The Court then says either that there is a sufficient basis for the plea or that there isn't. If there isn't, the Court rejects the plea and the State can nolle prossequi or proceed to trial. If the Court says there is, the Court does the plea colloquy and usually passes for sentencing. If the defendant is not in custody at that time, he may be taken into custody, but he may also remain out, if the PD is eloquent and the Court anticipates a light sentence.

If the case proceeds, without a plea there will be a million small terribly confusing hearing dealing with pretrial muck. You will be permitted to attend any hearing that is public that you wish to attend. You will not be permitted to attend hearings which are not public. You are not a party to the case; the State is and the defendant is. That is extremely difficult for victims. Most jurisdictions have a Victims Services office, who will provide you a "companion" for hearings and such, to explain and listen to you when something happens that you, as a nonparty, have no part in.

Trial can be either jury or nonjury. It's the defendant's choice; not the State's. You may be excluded from the courtroom until after you testify. It is unlikely to go to trial without you testifying.

Expect any verdict and any sentence to be anticlimatic.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:38 PM on November 3, 2006 [12 favorites]

Wow. That was really long. Anyway. Good luck. Talk this over with someone you trust, soon, you'll need lots of moral support, even just to make a report. If anything I've written is unclear, email's in my profile, I can elaborate on anything I've written or any of my in court experiences if you think it might be helpful.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:40 PM on November 3, 2006

crush-onastick's answer is about as comprehensive and as helpful answer as i can imagine. whoever the anon poster was, i hope that she's able to find local support in her area, through rainn, or other local services.
posted by deejay jaydee at 1:46 PM on November 3, 2006

Be prepared for the rape kit process at the hospital to feel pretty invasive. Depending on your mental state this may or may not apply but it can sort of feel like re-experiencing the trauma. Also they can treat you for STD's and possible pregnancy as well as counsel you on getting tested for HIV and hepatitis. It totally depends on the officer but it seems like in general they are sympathetic. don't expect a conviction. get some therapy, even if you feel "ok" now. good luck.
posted by yodelingisfun at 2:29 PM on November 3, 2006

If you have a local rape crisis line, the staff there should be able to tell you what the process is like in your area. The process can be different in different places. They may be able to offer you other information you should have, and other help, if you decide you need it.
posted by dilettante at 2:32 PM on November 3, 2006

Please, please, please take schroedinger's advice and go to the hospital for a rape kit. That way, even if you decide not to go to the police now, there will be documentation of the incident. I have no clue how things would play out with the police or in court - crush-onastick's answer seems to cover a lot. Calling a rape hotline sounds good too. But if that's uncomfortable what about a sibling, your mom and/or dad, close friend, teacher, co-worker, church leader? Talk to someone you know and trust, do what you know is right inside... I'm so sorry...
posted by youngergirl44 at 2:45 PM on November 3, 2006

Call your local rape crisis center - they should be in the phone book. They will know specifics about your area (which hospital to go to if you have a choice, etc) that we can't help with. They may be able to provide a person to go with you to the hospital. Also, you can tell them right now, without worrying in the way that you might worry about telling friends. I'm so sorry this happened.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:18 PM on November 3, 2006

Anonymous, whoever you are, you have all of our love.

Also, though you don't indicate that you are, if you are on a college campus, I _strongly_ recommend having a "macho" male figure with you when you deal with the cops. A friend of mine was treated extremely poorly by campus police and administration when she reported an assault; they only treated her respectfully when her dad showed up and started yelling. If you're on a college campus, there is close to zero chance of the asshole being prosecuted, because schools like to keep their clearly numbers down. For her, being screwed by the system was as traumatic as the assault itself. From what I understand, her's was not an uncommon experience.
posted by rbs at 3:38 PM on November 3, 2006

(that should be hers, not her's)
posted by rbs at 3:42 PM on November 3, 2006

anonymous: take images of your bruises NOW. take the advise above and talk to people who have experience with this. and then bury the guy.

you are stronger than you think.
posted by krautland at 3:47 PM on November 3, 2006

I _strongly_ recommend having a "macho" male figure with you when you deal with the cops.

if you are in chicago.... I am usually pretty damn good with cops.if you are not - make it personal. looking someone straight into the eye and saying "I need your help here" is rather powerful in itself.
posted by krautland at 3:49 PM on November 3, 2006

This is a comment a mefite sent me over email, again NOT FROM ME.

How I was treated convinced me to become licensed to carry a gun, because I'll kill someone before I go through what the system put me through again.

I was held at gunpoint, beaten...and the cop's response was that the bruises were "love taps" and that because I was drunk at the time and was there with a bunch of guys who street race, I had consented to being dragged out of a hotel parking lot into a man's room and being assaulted until the people at the party noticed I hadn't come back from getting smokes from the car.

The hospital process was horrible, including having a male cop staring at my vagina while a male doctor did the swabbing and combing.

The cops made me take 4...yes 4 lie detector tests, refused to allow me to have an attorney because they said "you're not being prosecuted, you don't need a lawyer", locked me in a windowless room and brutally ping-pong interrogated me. I was only "released" when someone called my parents and their attorneys went insane when they heard what the cops were doing.

The man who attacked me was the son of a very powerful man, and despite passing all 4 lie detector tests, having physical evidence, and witnesses who saw him drag me from the parking lot, the police (Clearwater Florida) declined to press charges. He was out of jail before I was done being interrogated.

Your mileage may vary, but I don't trust the system. My experience leads me to believe that cops think rape victims are sluts who were asking for it. I'm serious when I say I would kill someone and deal with a murder charge before I would report a rape again.
posted by jessamyn at 3:59 PM on November 3, 2006

As an advocate for the accused, crushonastick isn't giving you the whole picture. Most prosecutors who handle sex crimes are indeed very attentive and will shepherd you through the process, especially if you ask questions and want to be engaged in the process. As for the nuts and bolts of police procedure and rape kits, etc., your local rape crisis center can explain how prosecutions are handled in your area. Call them.

Most important: It is NOT a cinch that the rapist will be put out on bail if employed, white, etc. Please don't be intimidated by this. And you CAN indeed control whether this person is arrested/charged or not. Do this now: Photograph your bruises (and any red marks, scratches, etc. you think might be related, no matter how small). Take lots and lots of pics. And if they get darker tomorrow or the next day, even better. It will indeed come down to your word against his -- and marks of a struggle (torn underwear, bruises -- both inside you and on your skin) are the tiebreaker. And put those underwear in a paper bag. Do this now. Please. It's the best way to win the case, if you do indeed decide to call the police.

I have a friend who is a DA who specializes in sex crimes. I can try to bring her into the thread, if you wish.
posted by turducken at 4:13 PM on November 3, 2006

Please contact a Sexual Assault Crisis Services or similar organization in your area. They will have an advocate on hand who knows the ins and outs, down to specific officers, DAs, etc., and will physically accompany you, make phone calls to make sure everything is moving along, etc. This is DOUBLY important if you are on a college campus....you need a third party advocate NOT affilated with your university, unfortunately.
posted by availablelight at 4:52 PM on November 3, 2006

For balance in the thread, I'll add that I know first-hand of numerous cases like yours that have been prosecuted successfully, as well as cases of date-rape on college campuses that were handled professionally by both police and college officials (and resulted in successful prosecution, complete with incarceration, for the white, moneyed defendants).
posted by turducken at 4:59 PM on November 3, 2006

My understanding is that the various parts of the system have, over the last several years, become a lot more sensitive to rape (and domestic violence) victims' needs, due to the extremely hard and effective work of a lot of advocacy groups. I'm sure it still varies, and I'm sure there are still institutional problems, but just be aware that stories from several years ago may not be an accurate reflection of what's likely to happen today.
posted by occhiblu at 6:37 PM on November 3, 2006

I have a concern that may or may not be relevant, or may be completely obvious. It is very much a layman's question, and I hope someone who knows more will answer: if you do decide to report this to the police, wouldn't it be important to do it as soon as possible, in order to get evidence of struggle out of the rapist as well?

Again, I'm no expert, and for all I know, it may well be that the process would take longer than it takes for any bruises the rapist may have to heal.

For what it's worth (I have not been raped, but I have been robbed), I do hope you report this. Even though the cop who took my report treated me disrespectfully (he made it quite clear he'd rather have watched the hockey game), I was glad I got it over with.

Best of luck to you, in any case.
posted by Anything at 7:07 PM on November 3, 2006

I am a criminal defense attorney in the US.

I can tell you that your case is extremely likely to involve the defendant asserting consent as a defense. A defense of consent is very difficult to overcome for the prosecution. You will be asked many questions about what you have done with this guy, what your behavior was like, what your sexual history and habits are, and whether you were consuming any alcohol or drugs. There are rape shield laws that are designed to prevent the trial from being about your sex life, but any defense attorney is going to exploit whatever exceptions he/she can and to get in as much evidence of your sex life as possible. That is not pleasant.

That said, I highly recommend that you proceed. If you are having second thoughts because of how much you are concerned about the process being unpleasant or because you think it is likely he will be acquitted anyway, you still should go forward. If he winds up convicted, then justice is served. But even if he is not, he has to get arrested, go through the absolute humiliation of everyone hearing that he raped someone, spend an enormous amount of money on a defense attorney, and go through high levels of stress as he worries about his freedom. Right now, he is walking away unscathed. If you proceed, then he is not walking away unscathed even if he is ultimately acquitted.
posted by flarbuse at 10:11 AM on November 4, 2006 [3 favorites]

flarbuse: I thought bringing an alleged rape victim's sexual history into the case was no longer legal.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 5:18 PM on November 4, 2006

But even if he is not, he has to get arrested, go through the absolute humiliation of everyone hearing that he raped someone, spend an enormous amount of money on a defense attorney, and go through high levels of stress as he worries about his freedom. Right now, he is walking away unscathed. If you proceed, then he is not walking away unscathed even if he is ultimately acquitted.

that is the most insightful piece of advise I have ever seen on offered metafilter. kudos.

(also: I know an illinois public defender, lt me know if you wish to talk to her, anonymous.)
posted by krautland at 8:08 PM on November 4, 2006

If you proceed, then he is not walking away unscathed even if he is ultimately acquitted.

This is true, and well noted. But remember that proceeding is not cost-free for the OP; people above have marked the ways that proceeding can be difficult, stressful, hurtful for her. Just wanted to note this. Women who press charges when they've been raped are brave; they are taking on a lot, when they already have a Bad Thing to deal with. From where I sit, it looks worth it, but I don't know how it would look if I were sitting where anonymous is.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:04 PM on November 4, 2006

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