Should I Report to Authorities?
If you are under age 18, read this first to learn more about what to expect if you report or if you talk to many adults, who are required to report what you tell them.
I’m not sure if I want to make a report or not. How do I decide?
Making a report when the offender is your sibling brings its own set of concerns and questions.
RAINN.org has trained staff who are available by text, chat, or phone 24/7 (North America). All calls are anonymous and confidential. You can explain your situation and explore your options. If you wish, they can put you in contact with an advocate at a local crisis center who can support you as you decide and through the process of reporting, if you choose to do so. You have privacy rights and legal rights, and they can explain these to you.
Do I have an obligation to report, to protect others?
If you are an adult who was violated, it is your choice if and when you want to report. Carefully consider the pros and cons. If you don’t feel ready to report yet, get help for yourself first and then decide.
Where do I make a report?
You will need to report in the place where the abuse or assault happened, even if neither you nor your sibling lives there now. You can ask about options for how to report, especially if you live too far away to come in person. You can start with your local non-emergency number or 911 and they can connect you with the right people, or you can look up the non-emergency number of the county where you would need to report.
How do I report?
There are a few options:
Call the local police/sheriff non-emergency number or 911--they will send law enforcement officers to you
Go to a local police station--or call non-emergency number to schedule a time to come
Go to the ER, Urgent Care, or your physician
Call your state’s child abuse hotline
What will happen when I report?
You can decide if you want to have them come to you for this, at your home or elsewhere. Or you can go to the station and talk to them there. You can have a support person with you during this process if you wish.
You will be asked to tell your story to the officer on duty. They will ask you questions to get a complete report. You don’t have to answer any questions that you don’t want to. You can always give more information later if you wish. If at any point you feel you are not believed or not treated with respect, you can request to talk to someone else, to a supervisor, or to a victim advocate.
If an assault happened recently, you may be asked to have a physical exam to collect physical evidence. You may have a support person with you at this time, too.
Law enforcement may want to talk to your sibling. If law enforcement have reason to believe your sibling presents an imminent danger to your or others, they could arrest your sibling.
If authorities continue with an investigation, a detective may ask to meet with you to get more information. When they are done with the investigation, law enforcement will write a report. If there is enough evidence to consider bringing charges, the police or sheriff will send the report to the local prosecutor and they will make a decision on whether to bring charges.
RAINN.org: Tips for Communicating with Law Enforcement
Can I still report after all these years?
Some places there is a statute of limitations on how long abuse can be prosecuted after it happened. Check your state’s laws here (US). Cases are harder to prosecute when time has passed. So even if it is within the statute of limitations, authorities will not issue charges unless there is a realistic chance of conviction.
No matter what the odds of a legal case moving forward, you can still make a report. Many survivors find validation or peace in simply knowing they told the truth and that it was legally recorded. The response of the staff who receive the report can vary widely, however. It can be a healing experience to report to someone who listens intently, takes your report seriously, and shows appreciation that you are telling the truth. Unfortunately, some survivors have the opposite experience–especially those who are reporting non-recent abuse. This is one reason it is important to make sure you have support for yourself as you go through the reporting process.
What will happen to my sibling if I report?
If the one who caused the harm is still under the age of 18, their case could be handled by the juvenile justice system. The actual age cutoff depends on where you live, what offense is charged, and possibly also on which judge is assigned.
If the sibling who caused the harm is now legally an adult, but offended as a minor, there are a lot of unknowns. The local prosecutor’s office or a local defense lawyer specializing in sex offenses would give the best answer. (“Local” refers to the place where the offense happened, no matter where anyone lives now. It is fine for you to ask questions of a defense lawyer, as long as it is not the same person who is already representing your sibling.)
If the sibling has offended when age 18 or over, they will be placed in the adult criminal justice system.
Can I report but not press charges?
The only one who can issue criminal charges is the prosecuting attorney. Not the police, not even the victim. Most prosecutors won’t pursue a case without the victim’s cooperation, but either way, the final decision rests with the prosecuting attorney.
What about the sex offender registry? I want to make sure they don’t do it to someone else.
You can’t put someone on the public criminal sex offender registry unless they are convicted of a crime. Most states also have a central registry–a separate list of people who have been investigated by the Department of Human Services and found to have abused a child. The standard of proof for this registry is much lower than for a criminal case. Those who are listed would be prevented from getting a job or professional license to work with children or vulnerable adults. Here is more information about the sex offender registry.
I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice.
Find your local sexual assault crisis center