If you would like to report a sexual assault, rape or incidents of stalking or other violent assaults to the police, the SARIS Specialist can assist with this process. Filing a police report and criminal or civil charges against a perpetrator is a personal choice that involves consideration of all the options. Here is some information about what to expect.
Filing a police report
A police report will document the incident and take the first steps towards filing criminal charges. When you call the police to the make the report a patrol officer will meet with you at a location that you choose (the police station, your home, the SARIS office) and take the report. The officer will ask you detailed questions about the incident and gather information about any witnesses and the perpetrator. The process may end here if you do not want to go further.
The report goes to the police unit in the precinct where the assault occurred. This could be the UW Police Department, Seattle Police Department or others. A detective who specializes in these cases will be assigned and will usually call you within a few days to ask more questions and discuss the case. The detective will investigate the incident by gathering evidence, and interviewing witnesses and the alleged perpetrator. The information will be compiled and given to the County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Filing criminal charges
The prosecuting attorney assigned to your case will review the information and determine if there is enough evidence to move forward and officially charge the perpetrator with a crime. The prosecuting attorney decides if there is enough evidence to prove the case “beyond a reasonable doubt”. If the attorney does not think there is strong evidence, the case will not go forward. This does not mean that the assault did not occur – you still have other options. You may want to consider filing a civil law suit.
Filing a civil law suit involves contacting a private attorney who will represent you in bringing charges against the individual who assaulted you. SARIS can review these options with you and make the appropriate referral for legal services based on how you would like to proceed.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Criminal Process
If I report to the police, do I lose control of whether the case is prosecuted?
Once a victim reports the assault to the police, they become a witness in the state’s case against the assailant. While the victim does not control whether that case is prosecuted, most prosecutors will not go forward without the victim’s consent. Prosecutors typically consider various factors in determining whether to prosecute without the victim’s consent, including whether there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction without the victim’s testimony, whether they have been threatened into not cooperating, and whether there are other reasons for not participating. Rarely will a sexual assault victim be forced to participate as a witness in criminal proceedings against their will.
Can I file a police report and then not proceed with prosecution?
If the victim wants to report to police but not prosecute, many police departments will accommodate this choice, and most allow victims to file incident reports without pressure to go further. There are many reasons to file such reports-even when the victim is not ready to proceed with an immediate criminal investigation-such as qualifying for victim compensation or establishing a record.
How long will the criminal process take?
On average, a criminal case takes anywhere from 2 months to 2 years to come to trial. Victim participation is most active in the first months, during the investigation stage. During pretrial motions and conferences, victim participation may be sporadic or not required at all. It is not until trial that a victim may again be brought back into regular contact with the criminal justice system. During this “down time” some victims find it relatively easy to put the court proceedings out of mind; others find it difficult to do so while the case is pending. Every victim must decide if they are able to manage a potentially lengthy, arduous and sometimes confusing criminal process.
How likely is criminal conviction?
Rape cases are difficult to prosecute and difficult to win. Approximately one-quarter of sexual assault reports to police result in the filing of criminal charges, and roughly half of those charges result in a conviction. Victims need to understand these odds, and still understand that every case is different. Statistics do not predict what will happen in individual cases.
- Seattle Police Department
- King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC)
- Legal Voice
- Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs – WCSAP
- Washington State Bar Association
Adapted with permission, Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs – WCSAP