How is Sexual Abuse Proven in Court?

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This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may have been sexually abused or has questions around the topic:

What is Sexual Abuse? Definitions & Meanings
Who Commits Sexual Abuse & Why?
What are Signs & Symptoms of Sexual Abuse?
Handling & Dealing with Sexual Abuse
How to Heal and Recover from Sexual Abuse
What Impact Does Sexual Abuse Have on Victims, Families & Friends?
How to Report Sexual Abuse (and Who to Report it to)
How is Sexual Abuse Proven in Court?
Punishment & Sentencing for Sexual Abuse
How can Sexual Abuse be Prevented?
Sexual Abuse Data & Statistics
Sexual Abuse Helplines, Support & Further Reading


Sexual abuse offences are among some of the serious criminal charges bought before the courts.

It is important that victims including their friends and family know what to expect when they report these offences.

In this guide, we look at what evidence is needed and the steps victims can take to seek justice for sexual abuse.

Legal aid may be available if there is evidence that the individual or their children have been victims of the abuse or violence and cannot afford to pay legal costs.

Will I need to attend court as a victim or witness?

Depending on the evidence and the seriousness of the offence, this may involve a court process in which you will be required to give evidence during trial. However, some organisations such as Victim Support provide help and support for victims throughout this process.

How is Sexual Abuse and abuse proven in court?

Please see below the steps taken before the matter reaches court and the factors used to decide whether there is enough evidence to charge and convict the abuser;

Reporting it to the police

The first step would be to report the incident/s to the police, you can do this by going to your local police station or by calling 101. The police will ask you to provide a detailed statement of what happened to you including details of the abuser. This may be very difficult and it would be better to have someone close to you support you through this. The police will normally explain the prosecution process to you should you want the abuser to get prosecuted in the criminal court. They will begin an investigation if they feel confident with you wanting to proceed.

Alternatively, you may wish to contact your nearest Sexual assault referral centres (SARCs), they offer a range of services including medical, practical and emotional support for anyone who has experienced sexual assault or abuse. SARCs can also arrange for you to speak to the police should you decide to report the abuse and support you through the criminal justice system.

The investigation process

As part of the investigation process, the police may do the following;

  • If you told anyone at the time and they supported you (friend, relative or GP) they may be interviewed
  • Ask you to provide details of any other witnesses who can corroborate your report
  • They may attempt to gather forensic evidence
  • May try to access medical records with your consent
  • May arrest and interview the abuser (if you are wanting to prosecute

Please note as difficult as it may be it is extremely important that you try to keep as much evidence as you can of the abuse. Consider getting medical help as soon as you can for any injuries and for investigation purposes the sooner a forensic medical examination takes place, the better. Try not to have a bath or wash your clothes immediately after the assault as this may destroy forensic evidence.

After the police have completed their investigation

After completing their investigation (which could take a long time) the police normally pass the file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who will decide whether there is enough evidence and if it is in the public interest to charge and convict the abuser. This may involve a court process in which you will be required to give evidence during the trial.

You may be able to recover legal compensation by using some of the steps referred to in the investigation process above. For example, if you did report the incident/s then you may request a copy of the police report or give consent for your legal representatives to access this. It may be that your medical report has details of any injuries or treatments provided, again this would be very important evidence which will help your case.

Can a statement be withdrawn in a Sexual Abuse case? And what impact can it have on the case?

If a victim or witness wants to withdraw their statement, they will need to contact the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) directly and make a request for this. The statement of withdrawal should contain reasons for withdrawing support for the prosecution, this request will also confirm that the original statement was true and that the application for withdrawal is being made without any duress. After receiving this request the investigator or prosecutor will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to continue and make an application for a witness summons, alternatively, the prosecution may decide not to proceed and drop the case.

We understand how difficult it is to experience abuse, whether it is yourself or someone you know, sometimes trying to find help is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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