After reporting sexual harm
If the police decide to press charges, it can take a long time before the case goes to court.
When it does, the person accused of the crime (the “defendant”) will choose to plead guilty or not guilty. If they plead guilty, the case goes straight to sentencing. There won’t be a trial, and you won’t have to give evidence. You can give a statement about how the harm has affected you (called a “victim impact statement”) to help the judge make their decision.
If they plead not guilty, the case will be considered in court with both sides giving evidence. This is the trial. The time between the guilty plea and the trial is usually one year or more.
The court process can be daunting if you are giving evidence, but there is lots of support available to you. The police will assign you a court victim advisor, and you should contact an organisation like Rape Crisis or HELP, who have experienced support people to guide you through the whole process.
There are legal protections to make the court process easier for sexual violence survivors. Your victim advisor or other support people will help you access these protections. For example:
- Where appropriate, you should be given alternative options for giving evidence. This includes things like pre-recording evidence, or giving evidence over video or from behind a screen.
- The judge has to talk to the jury about common misconceptions they might have about sexual harm (sometimes called “rape myths”) and why they shouldn’t be brought into the case.
- Information about your previous sexual interactions with the person usually can’t be used as evidence.
- Where appropriate, the court should organise alternative facilities to make the day less stressful. This includes things like giving you a different or private waiting room.