Sexual assault is a serious crime. New South Wales police understand that the victims reporting and that it can be difficult and bring back memories that are of an extremely distressing and traumatic time. We have experienced detectives that can take your statement if you wish to formally report the matter and also to discuss the procedure that may follow. We also understand that not all victims want the incident to be formally investigated.

What Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual Assault is a general term used to describe a broad range of sexual crimes committed against a person.

These crimes include sexual intercourse without consent, aggravated sexual assault, indecent assault and acts of indecency (these offences generally involve inappropriate touching, including genitals or other intimate areas or forcing a person to touch the genitals or intimate areas of another person). An offence is aggravated if there is a threat, whether actual or implied, or it is done in the company of other people, or is committed upon a person under a certain age or under authority of a person (teacher/relative/carer) or involves the use of a weapon, force or threat. Sexual Assault is a crime of violence. It aims to humiliate and degrade the victim and can occur within marriage. It can be a frightening experience that may have long term effects. These effects occur regardless of a person's age, gender, status, culture, ability or sexuality.

Although women are primarily the victims of sexual assault, men and transgender people can also be victims. According to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, one in five women in Australia will be sexually assaulted at some stage during their life. The great majority of victims will know the person who assaulted them.

In the period after a sexual assault victims may experience a wide range of feelings including:

  • fear
  • anxiety
  • numbness
  • disbelief
  • panic
  • anger
  • shame
  • loneliness
  • embarrassment
  • irritability
  • guilt
  • powerlessness
  • loss of control
  • vulnerability
  • distress
  • confusion

It is a normal reaction to experience these feelings.

Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. When a victim reports sexual assault to police they will be offered access to a NSW Health sexual assault counsellor. With the victim's consent, police will contact one of these services on their behalf and arrange transport there if the matter is urgent. These services provide free and confidential counselling. If the sexual assault was recent and the victim agrees, the counsellor will arrange for a forensic medical examination. This examination will gather evidence for court if the victim decides to proceed with criminal action.

If the local sexual assault service is not available police will, for adult victims and if the victim agrees, phone the NSW Rape Crisis Service so the victim can speak privately with a counsellor. If victims wish to contact the Rape Crisis Centre themselves, they can call 1800 424 017, or through the online service at www.nswrapecrisis.com.au. This service is available 24/7.

The useful contacts section of this fact sheet outlines a list of other counselling, support and resource centres to assist both adult and child victims.

Anyone can talk to police about reporting a sexual assault. When victims formally report a sexual assault, police officers will be respectful, non judgemental, supportive and understanding. Even if a victim decides they do not want any further action to be taken, by reporting the sexual assault this helps the police to record the crime which may assist with future investigations.

It is never too late to report a sexual assault. Some victims choose to report immediately after the assault happens, others may report days, months and even years later.

Options for victims

There are several options a victim of sexual assault can take and these include;

  • Engaging police and having the matter formally investigated. This process will involve providing police with a statement and an offender may be arrested and charged. The victim may have to attend court.
  • Completing the sexual assault reporting option (SARO) questionnaire, where vital information on the assault is provided to police, without the matter being formally investigated.
  • Engaging any of the support services, including the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017. A list of other support services can be found at the end of this document.
  • Engaging no external services.

How can I make a report to the Police?

The New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF) provides victims of sexual assault two options in making a report. The first and preferred option is to contact the nearest Police Station and make a formal complaint. The second option is to complete the Sexual Assault Reporting Options (SARO) questionnaire. By reporting the assault to police vital information can be obtained about this type of crime. The information gathered can be used to prosecute an offender and to develop strategies to reduce this crime type.

Formal Complaint to Police

With the first option a specially trained Investigator will be the officer in charge and responsible for carrying out the investigation. They will also normally be involved throughout any subsequent court proceedings.

Across the State the NSW Police Force has officers who are specially trained in dealing with victims of sexual assault, with most adult sexual assault investigations carried out by local detectives attached to Police Area Commands (PACs) and Police Districts (PDs). The Child Abuse & Sex Crimes Squad (CA&SCS) also provides a specialist investigative response to some sexual assault matters, particularly those of a complex or serial nature. The CA&SCS further has dedicated teams which undertake investigations involving child victims attached to Child Abuse Units (CAUs) located throughout Metropolitan and Regional NSW.

Victims may contact their local police station directly or, if they attend a NSW Health Sexual Assault Service or other support provider, a counsellor may do so on their behalf.

When a report of a sexual assault is made to police, the victim will be asked to make a statement. This will be done in a private area at the Police station, away from other members of the public and day to day police operations. The process will involve remembering and recounting, as best as possible, the assault in detail, being open and honest about what took place. Police know that this can be difficult and embarrassing, but it is important to tell them everything that took place. If some details are left out, it may negatively affect the case.

Victims can have a support person with them while they are making their statement, however this person cannot join in or assist with the interview itself. They should also not be a potential witness or otherwise involved in the investigation. Victims have a right to a copy of their statement and, if asked for, it will be provided to them. A victim's preference of speaking with either a female or male officer will be met wherever possible.

Police may also request that a Sexual Assault Investigation Kit (SAIK) forensic medical examination be undertaken. This will be completed by a specially trained medical practitioner, and involve swabs and other physical evidence being collected. The SAIK process may be critical in assisting police to identify the person responsible and/or corroborating what has taken place. Once completed, the victim will be asked to sign a consent form to enable the SAIK to be released to police so the samples taken can be analysed. The evidence obtained may be used in future court proceedings.

Family and friends may also be interviewed and/or asked to give evidence in court if they are aware of what occurred.

There may often been an extended period between when a sexual assault is first reported and court proceedings being finalised. This can be very difficult for some victims, however there are various support services available to help. The Witness Assistance Service (WAS) provides information, referral and support for victims of violent crime, which can reduce the trauma of waiting for and going to court.

The welfare and safety of victims is of paramount concern to police and strict confidentiality will be kept at all times.

Police officers can provide victims with relevant information on a range of issues including counselling, forensic and medical services, victim compensation and criminal proceedings.

Police may also make an application for an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) on a victim’s behalf to protect them from future threats and/or violence. An AVO is a court order that bans a person from doing certain things, like contacting them, including through a third party, coming to their house or place of work.

Generally, action will not be taken to investigate or prosecute an alleged sexual assault without the permission of the victim.  There may however be some occasions where it is in the interests of the broader community to proceed.

Where there is sufficient evidence to commence criminal proceedings, the prosecution will generally be conducted by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).  This service, and the police investigation, are provided free of charge to the victim by the NSW Government.

Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO)

The second option, for victims that decide not to make a formal report to police, is to submit a SARO questionnaire.

The questionnaire is easy to complete containing a series of questions written to obtain specific information from the victim about the offence. There is a section where the victim can provide a summary in their own words about what happened to them. The more accurate detail recorded on the form the better.

The questionnaire is easy to complete and contains a series of questions designed to obtain specific information from the victim about the offence. There is also a section where the victim can provide a summary in their own words about what happened to them. The more accurate detail recorded on the form the better.

The questionnaire can be completed using neat handwriting or typed using a computer and sent to the Child Abuse & Sex Crimes Squad by either mail or email. Victims can choose to provide their contact details or make the
report anonymously.

There is also an option on the questionnaire to authorise, where applicable, the release of a SAIK to police.  Doing so may provide information capable of identifying the offender, and/or linking them to other offending.

Police understand that completing the questionnaire may be difficult, because it requires a victim to recall, in some detail, what happened.  If the services of a counsellor are being utilised, it may be useful to talk with them before doing so.  It is also recommended that the form be completed in a private place where the victim feels safe.

All information received will be treated with the utmost confidentiality, and recorded on a secure and restricted NSW Police Force data base. Completed questionnaires will also be kept securely at the offices of the CA&SCS.

Importantly, the submission of a SARO questionnaire is not the same as making a formal report to police and will not automatically result in a criminal investigation being commenced.  

The primary purposes of a SARO is to make a record of what occurred, in addition to allowing the NSW Police Force to gather information on sexual offences and offending.  

If a victim decides, after completing a questionnaire, that they wish to make a formal complaint to police, they can still do so at their nearest Police Station.

Police are mandatory reporters under section 27 of the Children and Young Persons (Care & Protection) Act. If a report is received concerning the sexual assault of a child or young person, police must also notify the Department of Family & Community Services (FaCS) Child Protection (CP) Helpline. This is however entirely separate to any subsequent NSW Police Force criminal investigation response.

Charter of Victims Rights

Victims of crime in New South Wales have a Charter to protect and promote their rights. The Charter outlines 18 rights, including the rights of victims to:

  • Be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect
  • Information about, and access to, welfare, health and counselling services
  • Privacy and protection
  • Information about the criminal justice system.

If a victim thinks a government agency has not helped them under the Charter, they can contact the Victims Services for help on 1800 633 063

Useful contacts

  • NSW Rape Crisis Centre 1800 424 017 - www.nswrapecrisis.com.au
  • Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 or www.bravehearts.org.au
  • Victim Services website: www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/vs
    • Victims Support Line (Victims Access Line 1800 633 063)
    • Aboriginal Contact Line 1800 019 123
  • Helping Victims of Sexual Assault: http://www.victimsservices.justice.nsw.gov.au/sexualassault
  • Sexual Assault Services
    Contact via your local hospital or go to www.health.nsw.gov.au/publichealth/sexualassault
  • Child Sexual Assault Counselling and support services
    • CASAC (Child & Adolescent Sexual Assault Counsellors) on (02) 9601 3790 or www.casac.org.au
    • Kids Helpline 1800 551800
  • Victims Register
    • Department of Corrective Services Victims Register: (02) 9289 1374
    • Department of Juvenile Justice Victims Register: (02) 9219 9400
    • NSW Health Forensic Patients Victims Register: (02) 9391 9302
  • Indigenous Women's Legal Contact Line 1800 639 784
  • Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre 1800 686 587
  • Women's Legal Services NSW
    • Contact Line 1800 801 501
    • Telephone Interpreter Service 13 14 50
  • Immigrant Women's Speakout 9635 8022 - www.speakout.org.au
  • Criminal Justice Support Network 1300 665 908 (for people with an intellectual disability)