Sexual Assault: Reporting To Law Enforcement

For more detailed information, see this Information Guide for Sexual Assault Victims prepared by the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Making a Report and Filing a Criminal Complaint

There are several resources that can help you think about filing a criminal complaint, and who can help support you throughout the process. A full explanation of resources is available in the Student Resource Guide. Some sources of guidance and support include:

Making First Contact with Law Enforcement

Generally, there are three ways to make contact with a law enforcement officer to make a report:

  1. At your location: The officer arrives at your residence or wherever you are, in response to an emergency call. In this case, the officer's first responsibility is to provide aid to you as a crime victim. This may mean driving you to the emergency room for medical treatment (if you aren't seriously hurt), or simply interviewing you there.
  2. At the hospital: A second scenario is when an officer is called to the emergency room in response to a call from the medical staff. In this case, the initial interview will occur in a private room at the hospital.
  3. At the precinct: You may go to the police department when you are ready to make a report or statement. You can bring support persons, such as a SARA advocate, with you. The Title IX Office can assist you in arranging transportation or identifying the correct police department.

 

The responding officer will sit with you and ask you detailed questions about what occurred, where, when, and how. Many of the questions may feel invasive or difficult to answer. Well-trained officers understand how difficult it is to answer these questions, but if they are to aid in an investigation, they need as much detail as possible. It might be helpful to have a knowledgeable advocate, such as a SARA companion, sit with you to provide support and to intervene in the event that the officer is in any way unprofessional. You may also bring a lawyer with you to the interview.

Once you have given a report to a police officer, the case is assigned to an investigator, usually a detective specially trained to handle sexual assault cases. In cases of felony sexual assault, the Commonwealth Attorney will be notified. In Charlottesville and Albemarle County, you will also be contacted by a Victim-Witness Coordinator who will help guide you through the process, make you aware of your rights, and accompany you to court.

For a better sense of what questions a law enforcement officer or detective may ask, or what types of evidence they will be seeking, read the Department of Criminal Justice Services Adult Sexual Assault Initial Response Checklist.

Investigation

If an officer is called to the scene of the incident, that person must protect the crime scene, determine the type and circumstances of the crime committed, as well as identify potential suspects and witnesses. After a preliminary survey of the crime scene, the responding officer will call in an investigator. In some cases of acquaintance assault there will be no "crime scene" per se, but there will be an investigation.  At the University of Virginia, you may request a plain clothes officer if you wish, so the situation will be handled more discreetly.

If the investigator is called to a crime scene, upon his or her arrival, the investigator takes charge of the scene and is briefed about the incident by the responding officer. The investigator will then interview the survivor and other witnesses, asking very specific questions about the crime. The investigator will then collect evidence, and document the crime scene if need be.

After the investigator conducts interviews and gathers evidence he or she then writes up a report that is then given to the Commonwealth’s Attorney's office. Physical evidence, including the PERK, is sent to Richmond for analysis. Your case is assigned a case number, which you may want to note. You may request a copy of the police report for your own files. If you see any errors, or you remember any further information that will aid the police or Commonwealth's Attorney, by all means inform the investigator. It's not unusual for survivors to remember more detail as time passes. Once the investigation is complete, it is sent on the Commonwealth’s Attorney to consider for prosecution.

Will my report or information be public?

State law allows you to request that any identifying information regarding you or members of your family not be released to the public, including the media, parents (if you are over eighteen) or deans of the University. However, police are required by law and the Freedom of Information Act to release some information, (deleting identifying details) including what occurred, where and when.