Whether or not to report a sexual assault to law enforcement agencies must be the survivor's choice, no one else's. The survivor is the one who will have to decide whether she can handle the stress that the decision to report inevitably brings.
Non-emancipated minors do not have the same legal protection around reporting as adults. If you are unsure about what your rights are, call the Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Service hotline to speak with an advocate, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Their telephone number is 1-866-399-7722.
A person who wants to report a sexual assault that just happened should telephone the police and be prepared to go immediately to a nearby hospital for a sexual assault forensic exam. That is a special exam administered by trained medical personnel in order to gather physical evidence about the assault. To preserve the evidence, the survivor should not clean herself up in any way before the exam is completed.
When the victim first reports the crime, the police in many Oregon communities in turn will notify the local Victim Assistance Program, and a Sexual Assault Victim Advocate may respond. Usually the advocate will meet the survivor at the hospital to support her during the initial police interview and, if the survivor wants, during the medical exam. The Sexual Assault Victim Advocate's main purpose is to listen to the survivor, validate her feelings and reactions, and prepare her for what comes next in the legal process. Advocates may also handle urgent practical tasks, such as assisting with phone calls for the victim and giving her clothes to wear home from the hospital if the ones she was wearing are needed for evidence.
Later, the advocate may go with the survivor to further interviews with the police and others in the justice system. The advocate may accompany her to the grand jury proceedings and, if there is an indictment, may help prepare the survivor for court, including such basic steps as showing her the courtroom, explaining the trial process, and assuring her it's all right to ask questions.
Support continues even after the trial, with matters of compensation and restitution. Victim Assistance Program staff will help the survivor with the paperwork needed to get aid from the Oregon Department of Justice Crime Victims' Compensation Program. Funds are there to help meet expenses like medical and counseling bills and to help make up for loss of income as a result of the crime.
For more information about the Victims' Compensation Program, see the section on “Crime Victims’ Compensation Program”.
Filing a criminal complaint against a sexual offender is not the only legal way to make him bear the consequences of his actions. In some cases, it may be productive for the survivor to look for a civil remedy-in other words, to sue for an amount to be paid as damages.
A civil suit may be against the sexual offender himself, but suits also have been made against others considered in some way responsible for the crime, such as a motel whose inadequate locks allowed the offender to enter the victim's room, or the company that failed to check out the offender's background before hiring him to work in homes where usually he was alone with his victim.
As always for anyone considering court action, the sexual assault survivor must decide whether it is worth it to sue, given the financial and emotional costs involved.
The financial reality is that unless the party being sued has a lot of money or other assets, it is unlikely the survivor can collect enough in damages to cover court costs, which can run to tens of thousands of dollars, much less to compensate for the anguish the offender caused. In addition, she may have a difficult time finding a lawyer to take the case at all unless there is the potential for a large award and a good chance of winning.This information provided by, or adapted from information provided by, Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service.