Reporting abuse and police involvement
- Lucy Faithfull Foundation Wales
- Who we are
- Helping parents and carers
- Supporting practitioners
- Getting involved
Reporting that your child has been sexually abused may seem daunting, but your child’s safety and needs are always a priority to the police. There is no time limit for reporting child sexual abuse to the police.
There are three main ways to report an offence. These are:
- in an emergency, when a child is immediately at risk of abuse or the abuse is happening, you should call the police on 999
- if your child has told you about sexual abuse, you should call the police on 101
- you can also make a report online.
Your child can also contact the police themselves to report sexual abuse.
Find more information about how to report abuse, visit the Parents Protect site.
A police officer will meet with you to take some details, and your child will be referred to specially trained officers whose job it is to investigate sexual offences. Your child will be interviewed and asked to explain in their own words what has happened. The interview will take place in a private, comfortable and child-friendly space. Your child can take this at their own pace and their statement will be recorded in a child-friendly way to make sure it can be used as evidence in any future legal proceedings.
As a parent or carer, you may want to stay with your child during their interview, however, you will be asked to go to another room where you may be able to observe. If you witnessed the abuse happening or you were the first person your child told about the abuse, then you will not be allowed to observe. This is to make sure that any evidence from the interview can be used in any future legal proceedings.
A police officer will investigate your child’s case and they will keep in regular contact with you to keep you updated.
If your child has additional learning needs then you might be worried about how they will cope or be looked after. Police forces have specially trained officers who are able to support your child through the process. This officer will make sure that your child is treated with sensitivity and understanding.
After the interview, your child might be asked if they will consent to a medical examination. This is to help provide the police with more evidence. They will be referred to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, which have specially trained doctors, nurses and support workers, known as independent sexual violence advisors, who can give your child medical and emotional support. There are two Sexual Assault Referral Centres in Wales with staff trained to work with children: one in Colwyn Bay and one in Cardiff. Ideally, any medical examination should take place as soon as possible, and specialist doctors will discuss when is the best time for your child to be examined.
Medical examinations are not always intimate, and a general examination can be helpful in identifying other health needs that your child might have that haven’t been previously identified. Before your child is examined, there will be a discussion between the referrer (for example the police) and the medical team to inform them of the circumstances. Once your child has been referred, you
might be asked not to wash or change your child’s clothes or not allow them to wash themselves. This is because essential evidence could be lost and gathering evidence is important for the police investigation.
You might be accompanied by a police officer or a social worker to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre, where your child will be seen by a paediatrician or a forensic medical examiner, depending on their age. Upon arrival, specially trained staff will meet you and explain in detail what will happen. They will also explain the process to your child, using pictures if appropriate for your child’s age. Your child will be reassured that the examination is optional. They will be able to take as many breaks as needed and are allowed to skip a step or stop the examination any time they want to. The examination can last up to two hours.
Results from the examination can take several weeks, and your child will be allocated independent sexual violence advisors who will support them and you through the process. Your child will usually be offered follow up appointments at your local sexual health clinic or with a local paediatrician, and counselling services will also be available. Services between the two Sexual Assault Referral Centres may vary.
When a child sexual abuse report is made to the police, they will contact children’s social services to help keep your child as safe as possible. A social worker may visit you and your child to
talk about what support they can give you. If your family is already involved with the social services, then your child’s allocated social worker will be informed, and they will contact you to discuss what has happened.
If you are a foster carer, social services may call a strategy meeting to explore their response, what information can be shared, and what support might be needed both for the child and for you.
Contact your local social services through NHS Wales.
The investigation might involve interviewing your child, witnesses and the person who is alleged to have committed the abuse. It may also include examining other materials, such as medical evidence or electronic devices. While the police carry out their investigation, the person who is alleged to have committed the abuse may be placed ‘under investigation’. This means they have been released from custody without charge and without bail conditions, and that the investigation is ongoing.
The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime includes certain rights for your child, including information that they and you are entitled to receive from the police.
You should hear within one working day:
- once a suspect has been arrested.
- if a warrant has been issued due to a suspect’s non-attendance at court.
Within two days of reporting the abuse:
- the police should pass your child’s details to Victim Support unless you ask them not to do so.
You should hear within five working days:
- if the crime is not being investigated
- if the suspect is given an out of court disposal, such as a caution or reprimand
- if the suspect is being interviewed under caution; released without charge or with bail conditions; or if their bail conditions are changed or altered in any way
- to be supplied with written information about what to expect from the criminal justice system.
Once the police have investigated a suspect, they will decide what happens next. The police can:
- caution the suspect
- take no further action
- refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The CPS is independent from the police. Their job is to make sure that the right charges are brought against suspects, to prepare cases to be presented at court and to provide advice and support for victims and witnesses.
When deciding whether to charge someone for criminal offences, the CPS must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that prosecuting the case is in the public interest.
If the CPS decide to charge the suspect and the case proceeds to a court hearing, you and your child will be informed of the date, time and location. If you are concerned that you have not received this information you should contact the investigating officer.
In the time between a suspect’s charge and their first court appearance, they will be released on bail or remanded in custody, which means they will spend time in prison until the court date. This decision will consider:
- an assessment of the risk the suspect might pose to your child, the public and any witnesses
- previous offences the person may have committed
- the suspect’s previous compliance with bail conditions
- how likely it is that the suspect will fail to attend their court appearance.
If the suspect is granted bail there may be conditions imposed on them that they must abide by. These might include making sure they do not contact yourself or your child directly or through other people.
Find out more about the Code of Practice for Crown Prosecutors on their site.
Some offences can be dealt with at the Youth or Magistrates Court. Magistrates are trained volunteers who hear cases in courts in their community. They can impose a variety of sentences, but if they think they don’t have the right powers for sentencing, they might refer a defendant to the Crown Court where longer custodial sentences can be given.
The Crown Court deals with the most serious offences. These courts are presided over by judges, who are fully legally trained.
- If a defendant enters a not guilty plea at the Crown Court, the case will be heard in front of a jury. If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will determine the sentence they receive.
- If a defendant pleads guilty, they will be sentenced either on that date or a later date.
If your child needs to give evidence, they are entitled to special help. These measures are put in place to help vulnerable witnesses give their best evidence in court, and to try to reduce some of the
stress to them. These measures might include court staff removing wigs and gowns to make them less intimidating to children, using screens in the courtroom or video links, or giving pre-recorded video evidence.
They might also be offered a pre-trial visit so that they get used to how the court looks. There are also powers to provide life-long anonymity to witnesses and victims under 18 years at the time of the court appearance.
Hearings involving sexual offences against children may be conducted in private or without the press or public present, where the court believes that this is needed to provide the best evidence. However, there is no automatic right to a closed hearing and decisions on this will be made on an individual basis.
You can find more information about witness and victim support on the Crown Prosecution Service site.
Once a defendant has been convicted of an offence in court by pleading guilty or after being found guilty following a trial, the magistrate or judge will consider what sentence to give, based on set guidelines.
Find out more about sentencing guidelines through the Sentencing Council site.
Sentences might include the defendant:
- being sent to prison
- receiving a suspended prison sentence
- receiving a community sentence, such as rehabilitation, community service or carrying out specific activities
- being prevented from entering certain areas or from contacting particular people.
If the defendant receives a prison sentence of more than 12 months, you and your child should be offered contact with the probation Victim Contact Scheme, which will keep you updated and give you the opportunity to express your views about any victim-related conditions that could be placed on the defendant on their release from prison.
All defendants who plead guilty or are found guilty of a sexual offence against a child, including those given a caution by the police or receiving any court sentence, will be placed on the sex offenders register. The length of time on the register is determined by their sentence.
The CPS might decide not to charge a suspect, or not to continue a case if they think there isn’t enough evidence. Victims have the right to request a review of this decision under the Victims’ Right to Review scheme.
You can find out more about the Victims’ Right to Review scheme on the Victim Support website