This article will explain:
- That there is no ‘right’ course of action if you have been sexually assaulted
- How to know if you’re ready to take action
- Some things to have in mind before you take action
- How to take action through the justice system
- How to talk to your school about what happened
- How to talk to your workplace about what happened
If you have been sexually assaulted, it’s very normal to want to be heard and to have your experience acknowledged. You may want to make sure that your perpetrator faces consequences for what they did to you, and that something will be done to stop them from harming others.
Here are some things you may find helpful to consider first. We also include some ways to take action against your perpetrator, if that is something you decide to do.
Whether you choose to take action against your perpetrator or not, the most important thing to remember is that sexual assault isn’t your fault. The only person to blame is the perpetrator.
There is no such thing as a ‘right’ course of action
There is no ‘right’ way to respond to sexual assault or to take action against a perpetrator. Every survivor’s journey will look different. Some people may:
- report the sexual assault to the police
- tell their workplace, university or school about the sexual assault, especially if they work or study alongside their perpetrator
- talk to a lawyer
- choose not to take any action
You may be feeling pressure from friends or family to respond in a certain way. If the person who hurt you was a friend or loved one, some people may be trying to discourage you from reporting what happened.
It's important to make decisions based on what you feel will be best for you – always trust your own instincts. Never do anything that you don’t want to do.
How do you know if you are ready to take action?
Taking action against your perpetrator can be a daunting experience. But sexual assault isn’t something you have to deal with on your own. Before you do anything, it helps to make sure you have a strong support network in place to back you up.
Here are a few questions you could ask yourself before taking action:
- Am I ready to have other people know about my story?
- If I’m feeling distressed because of this, who might I turn to for support?
- If, after I disclose my story to others, things don’t go how I’d hoped, how would that make me feel?
The best thing you can do is find a trusted person, or a few trusted people, that you can talk to. This might be a friend or a family member. You could also chat with a professional, such as a GP, a counsellor or youth worker, or a sexual assault support service.
If you’re struggling to start the conversation, check out our article with tips on talking to someone you trust.
What are some things to keep in mind before taking action?
Some sexual assault survivors report feeling better, safer and more in control of what happened to them after taking steps to hold their perpetrator accountable.
But it’s important to keep in mind that taking action involves some risks. These include:
- Not getting the outcome you are hoping for. It’s possible that, even if you report the sexual assault to police, they may not be able to gather enough evidence to charge your perpetrator.
- Feeling silenced or sidelined. Not everyone you tell might respond appropriately – some may ask questions or make comments that leave you feeling like the assault was your fault. But remember: this isn’t a reflection on you or on the validity of your experience.
- Bringing up a lot of painful emotions and trauma. Talking about, and reliving, your sexual assault can be incredibly tough. That’s why it is helpful to have a support network in place before taking action.
What are some of the ways that you can take action?
If you decide you want to take action against someone who sexually assaulted you, there are a few options you may want to consider. If you’re finding it hard to decide what to do, talking to a sexual assault support service or calling 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) can be a good first step. They have trained professionals who can guide you through the different options and explain what to expect.
Filing a police report
You might decide you want to file a police report about your sexual assault. The police will take a statement from you about your experience. This means that you will talk about the sexual assault in detail. This process can take a few hours, and it can be helpful to take a support person to the police station so you don’t have to be there on your own. The police should provide you with a copy of your statement as soon as possible for you to read and sign to verify that it’s correct. They will then use this statement to help investigate the case and gather any relevant evidence.
Talking to your school or university
You may want to tell your school, university or workplace about the sexual assault, especially if you work or study alongside your perpetrator.
If you go to school or university with your perpetrator, you might want to talk to a trusted teacher, the principal, or, if you’re at univeristy, the student services centre about your sexual assault. Schools and universities usually have procedures in place for this kind of situation and things that they can do to help you feel safe, such as making sure that you and your perpetrator aren’t in the same class. They may want to investigate the situation further before suspending the other person.
One thing that is important to note is that, if you are at school, teachers are required by law to report sexual assault to your parents, child protection services and/or the police, who you will probably need to talk to you as well about what happened. This is so that teachers can help ensure you are safe.
Talking to your workplace
At work, you could talk to a human resources officer or your manager about what happened. They will probably talk you through your options and may recommend that you escalate the issue via any formal processes the organisation has in place for situations like this. You can ask them to keep your situation confidential, but the person you spoke with may have a duty of care to report what happened to more senior levels in the workplace to ensure your safety and wellbeing. They should always tell you first if they are going to do this.
What can I do now?
- Read more about what sexual assault is and where you can find support.
- If you've only just realised that an experience you had was sexual assault, read more about that here.
- Check out the ReachOut online community to chat about what you are going through or read about other people’s experiences.