Reporting & legal process
Sexual assault, including rape, is a crime and those who experience it should know that they have the right to report it to the Gardaí. Nonetheless, the process of reporting crimes of sexual violence can be very difficult and traumatic for victims.
Many people find the process daunting and have very little information as to what happens when they report to the Gardaí or go to court. Below you will find information on the process of reporting and what to expect. For further information and support, you can always contact us or your local RCC.
You do not need to decide immediately whether to report the assault. To give yourself the option of doing so at a later stage, but to ensure you capture forensic evidence that may be very important for your case, you may decide to attend one of six Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATUs) across the country - find the SATU nearest you.
Contacting the Gardaí
Anybody who has been the victim of sexual violence can report it to the Gardaí. In the case of a recent sexual assault, you can call emergency numbers such as 999 or 112 or contact your local Garda station.
To report a historic sexual assault or child sexual abuse, you can contact your local station and arrange a time to meet with a Garda to discuss making a report.
Making a statement can take several hours and may not be completed in the first sitting, so you may have to return at another time to finish the statement. You can bring someone with you for support or attend on your own, as you wish.
- The DRCC offers accompaniment and support to anyone who is making a statement or considering reporting sexual violence to the Gardaí – you can learn more about that on our accompaniment page.
- The Garda Siochána has also issued a leaflet on reporting sexual violence and child abuse.
Sexual Assault and Treatment Unit (SATU)
In the case of a recent sexual assault, the Gardaí will bring the victim to the Sexual Assault and Treatment Unit (SATU) closest to their area to gather forensic evidence. The SATU is a dedicated unit staffed with forensic nurses and doctors that have been trained to take forensics in relation to crimes of sexual violence. There are a number of SATU units around the country (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Donegal, Waterford, Mullingar and Galway). In Dublin, the SATU is located in the Rotunda Hospital.
If you attend the SATU, staff will talk you through the services they can provide - care options include emergency contraception to prevent a pregnancy, medication for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and minor wound care management. You will also be offered the Hepatitis B vaccination.
There are three pathway options at SATU following assault - in all cases you will be given full and appropriate medical treatment and follow-up:
- You can report the rape or sexual assault to the Gardaí and be brought by them for a medical and forensic examination by the dedicated staff in the unit.
- You can make an appointment with SATU directly to have a medical examination only. In this case there is no forensic examination.
- If you are not sure about reporting the rape or assault, you can arrange a medical and forensic examination where the evidence can be stored for a year and you can decide on contacting the Gardaí.
A DRCC support person will be present in the Dublin SATU, located in the Rotunda Hospital, to offer you confidential information and support. You can also bring a friend or family member with you if you wish.
Note: Anyone under the age of 18 reporting a sexual assault or rape must have either a parent or legal guardian with them to make sure they are safe and not in any further danger.
Reporting to the Gardaí
The Gardaí will interview you and take a formal witness statement. Remember that you are a witness in this process and the State is the prosecution. The interview can take some time as they need to get as much detail and information as possible from you in relation to the assault; this allows them to carry out a thorough investigation.
They will also speak to any other witnesses who may have information in relation to the assault as well as interviewing the accused person.
They may have to take more than one statement, so you may have to return at another time. You can contact the investigating Garda at any stage if you have any questions or feel that the process is taking too long.
Once the Gardaí have completed their investigation, they will forward a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who will decide if the case will proceed to trial.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)
The DPP decides whether to prosecute a person for committing a crime and what the charges should be. The DPP reads the file that the investigating Gardaí have sent them and carefully considers whether or not to prosecute the accused person. The jury or judge need to believe that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, so the DPP must consider if there is enough evidence not only from you, but also other evidence that supports your story. The Garda Siochána have made a video that explains this process. The DPP's office has information on how it reaches a decision on whether or not to prosecute on its website.
If the DPP decides not to prosecute, it is usually not that they do not believe your account of what happened, but that they feel that there is not enough evidence to secure a conviction in court. They will inform the investigating Garda who will then inform you. You have the right to request a summary of the reasons for the DPP’s decision, but this must be made within 28 days of the date you are told of the decision not to prosecute. You also have the right to ask for the decision to be reviewed and reconsidered; this must be made within 56 days of the date you were informed. You do this by writing to the Victims Liaison Unit, Office of the DPP, Infirmary Road, Dublin 7. The DPP has produced a leaflet on this topic which you can download and has a section on its website offering further details.
If the DPP decides to proceed with the case, they will inform the investigating Garda who will inform you. A date will be set for the trial, and the investigating Garda will let you know when and where the trial will take place and give you your witness summons.
The Director of Public Prosecutions will offer you a pre-trial meeting in the Court before the trial date, where the DPP’s barrister and solicitor explains what will happen in court. Because you are a witness in the trial process, the solicitor and barrister cannot discuss evidence or testimony with you, but can only answer questions about what will take place in court. The DPP's office has a leaflet on going to court as a witness that explains the process (it is also available in other languages and Braille on the DPP website).
The only time that a victim has separate legal representation is when the judge allows questions on their previous sexual history. The victim will get a chance to talk to their solicitor and barrister prior to giving any testimony on issues of previous sexual history.
The pre-trial meeting is an excellent opportunity for you to see the courtroom, learn where everyone sits and what will be involved in giving evidence as a witness. In addition, the DRCC offers a court familiarization service at any time prior to the trial starting.
Before the trial begins
The day of the trial can be very daunting. You may never have been in a courtroom setting before and may find the idea of seeing the accused and giving evidence very daunting.
The DRCC offers a service where a trained support person will accompany you to court and stay with you while you give evidence. The feedback from victims is that this accompaniment service is very helpful during this difficult process. You can read more about that on the accompaniment page.
On the day of the trial, you will come to the court in the morning at around 10am. If you wish, you can be met by someone from the DRCC, or from Victim Support, who will offer you support during the day. There is often a private room available for victims and their supporters to wait during the trial, so you should ask about this.
Before the trial begins, the accused will have the charges read out and will plead guilty or not guilty. A jury is selected, and then a judge and courtroom are assigned to the case.
If the accused is in custody, they will be transferred from the prison on the morning of the trial and brought up to the courtroom when the case is called. If the accused is out on bail, they will come to court in the same manner as the victim.
In cases of rape and some sexual assaults, the trial is held in camera - which means that nobody other than the people associated with the case is allowed to be in the courtroom when the trial is taking place. While journalists may be present, they are restricted from reporting any identifying information about the victim or the accused during the trial.
Why would the trial not go ahead?
A trial may not go ahead on the day for a few reasons: There may be no judge or courtroom available; an important witness may not be available to give evidence; or the defence may not be ready to go ahead. The trial can be delayed for a few days or until another date.
The duration of the trial depends on the number of witnesses involved - the judge will give an estimate to the jury. Both the victim and the accused are allowed to have one or two supporters in the courtroom.
If the case is being heard by a jury, the DPP’s barrister will present the prosecution case to the jury, explaining what the case is about, and then will call each witness one by one. The prosecution will ask you questions first as the main witness, and then the defence will have a chance to cross-examine you. If there is a break while you are giving evidence, you must not talk to anyone about your testimony. How long you will give evidence depends on how many questions the barristers have. When you are finished being cross-examined, you are free to sit in the court.
When the prosecution has finished questioning all their witnesses, the defence will start their case. The accused does not have to give evidence, but if they do, they can be cross-examined by the prosecution also. The prosecution’s job is to prove that the accused committed the crime; the defence does not have to prove the accused is innocent.
When both sides have finished presenting, they will argue their case to the jury. After they finish, the judge will sum up the evidence for the jury and explain the law or laws involved. The jury will then go to another room where they will decide whether the accused is guilty or not.
Once the jury has reached a decision, they will return to the courtroom and the jury foreman / forewoman will read out the verdict. If they cannot reach a verdict, the jury will be discharged and the DPP will decide if a new trial should take place.
- If the accused is found not guilty, they are free to leave the court.
- If the accused is found guilty, the judge will usually set a date for sentencing. This gives the Gardaí, doctors and probation service time to prepare a report. It also gives the victim time to write a victim impact statement.
Victim Impact Statement
As a victim of crime, if the accused is found guilty, you have the option to make a victim impact statement. This describes the effect the crime has had on you, in your own words. You can write about things like the physical or psychological injury you have suffered, the impact on your life and the impact on your family - emotionally, financially or otherwise. You can read the statement yourself or have someone read it on your behalf for the court, before the judge makes a decision about the sentence. You do not have to make a victim impact statement if you choose not to.
The Director of Public Prosecution's office has prepared a leaflet on making a Victim Impact Statement to download. You can also read a leaflet on making a statement prepared by An Garda Siochána, the DPP's office and the Victims of Crime Office (the leaflet is available in multiple languages to download).
On the day of sentencing, the judge will listen to submissions from the defence about the offender and will hear the victim impact statement. The judge will listen to everything and then make a decision about the length of the sentence given. Sometimes the judge may take some time to make the decision about the sentence and the victim will have to return to court another day.
If the offender receives a custodial sentence they will be taken into custody. If they receive a suspended sentence they will be free to leave the court, but will have to follow the restrictions set out by the judge.
Attending court as a witness can be a very emotional and difficult experience, especially when the crime is in relation to sexual violence. The end of the trial does not always bring with it a sense of closure, especially if the accused is found not guilty. There is no set way a victim should feel after a trial. Emotions such as exhaustion, sadness, anger, relief or disappointment are very common. You may need some support from family members or counselling services. Remember: the National Helpline is available 24 hours a day for support at 1800 778888.