One of the most common questions the Arc Legal & Advocacy team receive when it comes to sexual assault & harassment is how to report to police and what making this report will mean practically. This resource will walk you through some frequently asked questions about the reporting process.

How can I report to police? 

If you have experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment, you can report to police in a number of ways:

In person at a police station

These are the steps you can take to report this way:

  1. Call your local station and ask to make an appointment with a senior officer/detective to report a sexual assault.
  2. When you arrive at the station, you will speak to a detective.
    • You can request to speak to a female detective if you feel more comfortable.
    • Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander people can request to speak to a detective of Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander decent, but resources are more limited as not a lot of officers identify. Different stations may have Aboriginal Cultural Liaison Officers (however more often than not these officers are male). 
    • You can also request an interpreter if you feel uncomfortable conversing in English. 

Online – SARO

These are the steps you can take to report this way:

  1. A report can be made online by filling out a PDF questionnaire known as SARO. Once completed, this questionnaire can be emailed or sent via post to the Sex Crimes Squad.
    • This is not a formal complaint. To make a formal complaint you will need to give a formal statement to a detective.
    • To find the SARO as well as details for where to send the SARO go here.
  2. Once submitted, you will be sent an email to confirm that the report has been received.
  3. If you would like to be contacted by police – perhaps to organise a formal statement – you should respond back to the email and a detective will be in touch. You should be contacted within a day. 

Emergency situations (if the offence has just happened, or in an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and police will come to you)

  1. Call 000 and request police. General duties officers (first responders) will arrive first and then detectives are called. 
  2. Police will assess whether medical assistance is required.
  3. If appropriate, police will take details about where it occurred and what happened. You can give an official statement at this time, or you can wait until later if you would feel more comfortable.

What are the steps involved in reporting to police? 

  1. Police will speak to you. This conversation will be to obtain an official statement determining your version of events around what has occurred.
    • For a matter to proceed to court, a formal statement has to be obtained. It is a legal requirement. 
  2. From that statement, police gather all the information needed to give evidence to your version of events.
  3. Once police have enough information, the allegation is put to the accused person to admit, dispute or decline to be interviewed. 
  4. As a result of that interview, police determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the person and put the matter before a court.
    • Even where the accused has not provided their version of events, police can proceed with charges and put the matter to the court if there is enough to do so. 
  5. If the Police Prosecutor agrees there is enough evidence, court proceedings will start from this point. 
  6. You should be contacted by the police every 28 days for updates (if not more frequently). 

Note: the same procedure applies for male victims. 

What questions will I get asked? 

Your statement is the basis for the case against the other person, so police will ask you to recount as much detail as possible. This may involve remembering little details about where you were, who was around, what was said, what you (and the other person) were wearing, eating, drinking – even if you think it’s not important, you should try to give as much information as possible.

Police may ask questions about:  

  • identifying the perpetrator (where their identity is not known, their physical appearance (height, weight, hair colour, skin colour, tattoos or birthmarks), accent, clothing etc
  • the location of the attack
  • the nature of any relationship
  • whether there are physical injuries, or forensic evidence
  • details of what happened during the assault
  • the sequence of events that led up to and afterwards
  • who else saw or heard anything before, during, or after the assault

Remembering (and reliving) these details can be very traumatic so if you need to take a break, tell the detective. Having a support person with you can help. A statement can be made over the course of several days if needed. You will also have the opportunity to add or change information. When it iss finished, you will be asked to sign that your statement is correct.

If reporting within 72 hours, police may also ask you to undergo a medical exam to collect DNA and other forensic evidence. You do not have to consent to any medical or other physical exam.

When will police involve my perpetrator?

Once you have made an official statement, police will try to corroborate that statement by seeking further evidence. This evidence could include: scene of crime evidence, witnesses, text messages, phone records, CCTV, and forensic evidence.

Once police have determined that sufficient evidence has been found to corroborate your statement, police will interview the accused giving them an opportunity for that person for them to respond to the accusation.

There may be some delays in gathering evidence as it is a difficult and lengthy process. It can be particularly difficult if the incident was a historical incident, therefore, it may be some time before your perpetrator will be involved in proceedings.

When they are contacted by police, the accused can choose not to be interviewed - it is a matter for them to decide (likely in conjunction with their legal team).

Following this, if police find enough evidence, they will charge the accused.

What If I don’t want to report straight away? 

It is very common that survivors of sexual violence do not report right away. Many wait years and even decades before making an official report. Making a report can be a difficult and scary thing. If you need some time, that is ok and you are not alone.

You can always make an online SARO report as it can be used to document what happened to you but is not a formal statement. You can then choose to make a formal statement at a later time.

What if I make a statement and later want to stop with criminal proceedings? 

You can start and stop the statement process as many times as needed – police will support victims needs whatever those are. 

Once you make a formal statement and the perpetrator is charged, you will be necessary as a witness for the prosecution in court action. However, you can also choose not to proceed in any court action. The Police Prosecutor will then need to assess whether the case can continue without your evidence.

If you do not want to continue because you are concerned about your safety, there are ways to give evidence without needing to see or be in the same room with the perpetrator.

Police can also take out an AVO to stop the perpetrator from contacting or harassing you.

What will happen if I present to an Emergency Room?

For many survivors of sexual assault, the ER may be the first place they go to receive medical care, discuss contraceptive and prophylactic options and other medical assistance. These are the steps of what will happen:

  1. You will meet with a triage nurse. They will ask questions about physical wellbeing to determine how serious your injuries might be.  
  2. Assuming that there are no issues that need to be dealt with in emergency, Emergency staff will then contact the Sexual Assault Service (SAS). This is a service within or close to the hospital that provides sexual assault survivors with medical care and counselling.
  3. A Counsellor will arrive first and take you to a private room in the emergency department. 
  4. You will discuss options available for support and reporting. Counsellors are trained and should provide you with piece of mind and validation.
    • Note that any notes recorded during this process are private and separate from your medical record. They are not accessible or viewed by anyone out of SAS team. 
    • Reporting to the police is a choice. The sexual assault counsellor will always act in line with your choices 
  5. After this conversation, a doctor will then arrive to discuss the medical and forensic options with you.
  6. The doctor will ask for consent to physically examine and collect specimens. It is always your choice. 
  7. The doctor can also talk about your medical needs for example: sexual health and/or emergency contraception.
  8. They can also discuss your psychological needs, physical safety and common trauma symptoms. 

You do not have to make a report to police to access a Sexual Assault Service. Most victims go to a sexual assault service before police seen them, if they ever go to police. Sexual Assault Services are free to anyone who wants to attend, regardless of your Medicare status.

The closest SAS to UNSW is at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown. To find out more about the RPA’s Sexual Assault Service, including how to get in contact and/or visit, go here.

What sort of evidence will be taken from me? 

At the Sexual Assault Service, a doctor will be able to use a Sexual Assault Investigation Kit to collect semen, saliva, skin cells etc which can assist the police in prosecution. This evidence is known as forensic evidence. A Sexual Assault Investigation Kit can be taken up to 5 days after an incident of sexual assault. The types of specimens that can be collected in this kit depends on the type of assault and the time frame since assault.

The results of the kit can be kept up to 3 months, while you decide if you want to proceed with legal action.  

What will happen in a Sexual Assault Investigation Kit?

Please note that you can have a support person with you during any physical examination. The following are the steps involved in a Sexual Assault Investigation Kit:

  1. Doctor will take swabs from your skin (including vagina, anus). The swab is similar to a big cotton bud. It is used to find any DNA from your perpetrator.
  2. Mouth rinse is used if there is an oral assault. This involves swishing sterile water around in the mouth and spitting out into a container. 
  3. Blood and urine may also be collected from you if it was an alcohol or drug related assault. 
  4. DNA may also be collected from under fingernails.  
  5. The Sexual Assault Service may also collect you underwear and clothing. They will provide you with replacement clothing to go home in. 

All of this evidence will be stored at the SAS. It will only be taken to the police for analysis if you consent to this. This forensic evidence can assist with a criminal case, but an accused can still be charged without it. As such, if your assault was longer than 5 days ago, or you cannot complete a Sexual Assault Investigation Kit for any other reason, please know that you can still pursue criminal proceedings.

A doctor can only examine you with your consent, and an examination can be stopped at any time. The main goal is to give control back to you, however the examination process can be difficult and stressful. Staff should give you as much time and care during this process as you need.

How do I report sexual assault to UNSW? 

You can report any experience of sexual assault or harassment to UNSW via the Sexual Assault & Harassment Reporting Portal

This portal can be used to report any incident connected to UNSW. That means it may have occurred on campus or on public transport to or from campus. You can also report if it occurred off campus but included a UNSW student or staff member or if it occurred in a UNSW online forum like Moodle.  

You can report anonymously if you wish and you can report historical incidents also.  

Why would I make a report to UNSW?  

As well as possibly being a crime, sexual misconduct by a UNSW student is a breach of the UNSW Student Code. If the other person is a student, and you want their conduct investigated, making a report (via the portal, a first responder or directly to Student Conduct & Integrity) is the first step in the investigation process. This may lead to their permanent exclusion from UNSW, although specific outcomes depend on the circumstances of each case.   

Reporting through the portal can link you to important support services and other university processes (like special consideration). You can also discuss options to ensure your safety at UNSW like changing classes or having the other person temporarily suspended from campus pending further action by you. 

Reporting may also help UNSW improve general safety for all students. 

If I make a report of sexual assault to UNSW, will UNSW report it to the police?   

In some cases, UNSW may be required to report your complaint to the police. This is because anyone who knows (or believes) that a "serious indictable offence" has been committed, has a legal obligation to report it, unless there is a "reasonable excuse" not to do so. UNSW will tell you if your complaint has bene forwarded to the police.  

This obligation to report to police does not apply to some professionals, like doctors, counsellors and lawyers, so you can get confidential advice from a Sexual Assault Service, UNSW Psychology & Wellness or Arc Legal & Advocacy.  

However, regardless of any information UNSW gives to police, the choice to talk about what happened to you is always yours. 

If you are contacted by police, you can choose not to make a formal statement. A formal statement is the first step in the process for police to charge someone with a crime. Making a statement to police is a personal decision and not right for everyone. You should never feel pressured to make a statement or talk to the police.  

Remember you can always make a formal statement later if you change your mind.   

If you are not sure what to do, it can be a good opportunity to have an informal discussion with the police and ask questions about the process before deciding whether to proceed with making a formal statement. Even where you decide not to continue with a formal complaint, police may be able use the information you have supplied to help someone else.   

You can also submit a SARO questionnaire to document what happened which can be accessed by police when, and if, you decide to formally report it.  

Where can I seek mental health support after a sexual assault? 

Trying to take your next step forward after a sexual assault can be overwhelming - but you don't have to do it alone. There is a range of free and confidential counselling services that you can reach out to when you're in need. They include: 

Note: these services are also available for friends & family of someone who has experienced a sexual crime. 

Here are other helpful links and contacts that can also help support you.