If you or a suspected victim is in immediate danger, call 911.
Reporting Sexual Assault And Abuse
Deciding whether to report sexual abuse or sexual assault is a personal decision. Not every victim of sexual violence will choose to report their experience. However, some survivors find strength and empowerment through the legal system.
How Do I Report Sexual Violence?
There are several ways to report sexual assault or child sexual abuse. However, reliving the trauma can be difficult for survivors. So, you should choose the reporting method you are most comfortable with.
Report To Your Local Law Enforcement
You can contact your local police department by phone or report the crime in-person. Because of the nature of sexual offenses, some police departments offer ways for victims to report anonymously, either by phone or through an online form.
Reporting to campus-based law enforcement is an additional option for those on a college campus.
Reporting a crime to law enforcement is not the same thing as filing a lawsuit (i.e., a civil claim) against an abuser. You can file a police report to document the incident without filing a civil claim. However, there is a chance your report may lead to a criminal investigation and legal proceedings.
After An Incident of Sexual Violence
Besides reporting sexual violence, there are other actions a victim can take. Victims may choose to seek medical attention and documentation of their injuries. Many victims also seek out support or legal assistance.
Visit a Medical Center
If you sustained injuries from your assault or abuse, visit a hospital or medical center to have your injuries treated and documented.
You can choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam if your medical center provides that service.
While seeking medical attention, you can tell the healthcare professional that you would like to report the crime. They can assist you with the next steps.
A sexual assault forensic exam is also commonly known as a “rape kit.” The exam provider collects DNA evidence that can be used to build a strong legal case against the abuser.
Even if you are unsure about reporting the crime or filing a lawsuit, it is always a good idea to seek a forensic exam. You have the right to get a forensic exam regardless of whether you intend to report a crime or file a civil claim.
A forensic exam will ensure evidence is preserved, should you change your mind about reporting the incident or suing your abuser.
Connect with a Local Rape Crisis Center
Talking to the police or a medical professional about an experience of sexual violence can be overwhelming. Some survivors of sexual assault or child sexual abuse feel more comfortable speaking with a trained victim advocate.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline can connect you with the nearest sexual violence service provider. These local organizations provide education, counseling and advocacy to survivors.
You can reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).
Seek Legal Guidance
It can be extremely difficult to file a report and consider legal action against an abuser. However, there are several benefits for survivors who bring their abuser(s) to court:
- Survivors may receive financial compensation.
- Survivors can hold their abusers accountable for the physical and mental damages they’ve suffered.
- Survivors help end the cycle of abuse.
Despite these benefits, filing a lawsuit is not easy. But, you don’t have to navigate the legal system alone. Our legal experts have the knowledge, experience and determination to help you get justice. Consult one of our lawyers today to learn more about your legal options.
What Is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence refers to any sexual activity where one person does not freely give consent or is unable to give consent. Many cases of sexual violence may involve violent or coerced acts. However, the incident does not need to be violent (e.g., involve coercion or inflict other bodily harm) to be considered sexual violence.
A child cannot give consent to any sexual activity. Thus, any sexual act committed against a minor is generally considered an act of sexual violence.
How Long Do You Have To Report Abuse?
There is no deadline to report abuse. However, there are deadlines to file civil lawsuits.
Every state has statutes of limitations that define the deadline to start litigation for certain crimes. Most states have several different statutes for various sexual offenses. For example, a state may have one deadline for cases of sexual assault against an adult and a different deadline for sexual abuse against a minor.
Survivors considering legal action should report the incident and file a civil claim before their state’s statute of limitations passes.
How To Report Suspected Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is significantly underreported in the United States. According to the advocacy group, Darkness to Light, fewer than one-third of child sex abuse incidents are reported.
One reason for this occurrence is that the action of reporting often falls to the child victim. There are many reasons a child may choose not to report an incident of sexual abuse.
Adults who suspect child sexual abuse can help reverse the trend of underreporting. By facilitating a legal investigation, adult reporters may also help protect innocent children from future abuse.
How Do I Report Child Sexual Abuse?
To report child sexual abuse, you must have reasonable suspicion that abuse is happening. However, you do not need concrete evidence to contact the authorities. This is known as a “good faith” report. Depending on state laws, local law enforcement or child protective services may handle the report and subsequent investigation.
When you make a report, a certain amount of information is required, including the child’s name, age and address, as well as the type of abuse suspected. The reporting agency will be able to determine if there is enough information to act upon. You can always add to the report if you discover more information at a later date.
If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.
Every state has mandatory reporting laws for child abuse committed against a minor. The term child abuse encompasses physical abuse, verbal abuse, neglect or sexual abuse of a minor.
Laws differ between each state. Some states require people with specific professions to report abuse. Common professions named in mandatory reporting laws include:
- School staff
- Healthcare professionals
18 states require anyone to report suspected child abuse, regardless of their occupation. The District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands also have this requirement.
Mandatory reporters who don’t report suspected abuse can be fined or prosecuted for their inaction.
If you suspect child abuse, report it. You do not need to be a mandatory reporter in your state to make a report. Your actions as a voluntary reporter could save a child’s life.
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Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo
With more than 30 years of practice in product liability and personal injury law, The Meneo Law Group and its partners have helped clients obtain more than $20 billion in total compensation.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, January 17). Sexual Violence.
Children’s Bureau. (2019, April). Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect [PDF]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Darkness to Light. (2015, December 4). Child Sexual Abuse Statistics [PDF].
Darkness to Light. (N.D.) Making a Report.
RAINN. (N.D.) What Is a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam?