How to Report Sexual Assault: Everything You Need to Know

a sign that reads 'How to Report a Sexual Assault: Everything You Need to Know' next to the blue ribbon.

Please be advised that the following content addresses the topic of sexual abuse. While this discussion does not delve into explicit details of abuse, we acknowledge the difficulty of such experiences. We recognize that this subject matter can be triggering. Our intention in this discussion is to foster a greater understanding and awareness, which are critical steps toward prevention and providing support to those affected. If you find this topic distressing and need immediate support, please consider reaching out to trusted friends, family, or professional services that can offer assistance. We have provided some resources within this post.

April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (“SAAM”), which serves as a reminder to acknowledge and support survivors of sexual assault. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, regardless of gender, age, race, or background. It is a traumatic experience that can cause severe physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the survivor. Before we get into how to report sexual assault, let’s first deepen our understanding of what it entails.

Sexual assault is a prevalent issue that affects millions of individuals globally. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an average of 433,648 people aged 12 or older reported experiencing rape or sexual assault each year between 2013 and 2017 in the United States alone.[1] One out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.[2] About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.4 From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated or found strong evidence to indicate that 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse. Even more alarming, these numbers do not reflect the significant number of unreported cases that occur each year.

Understanding Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can take many different forms and come at the hands of many types of abusers, but one thing remains the same: it is never the victim’s fault.

According to RAINN, the term “sexual assault” refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include acts such as fondling or unwanted sexual touching; forcing a victim to perform sexual acts; penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape; or attempted rape. [3]

According to Florida Statutes 794.011 “sexual battery” is defined as oral, anal, or female genital penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or female genital penetration of another by any other object; however, sexual battery does not include an act done for a bona fide medical purpose.”

The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately 8 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner violence or acquaintance rape (also known as date rape, which can be perpetrated by others known to the victim, such as neighbors, classmates, friends, etc.).[4] Giving someone consent in the past does not give them consent for any act in the future. If you did not consent, they acted against the law—and you can report it.

In cases of alcohol or drug-facilitated sexual assault, survivors often blame themselves. Remember—it is not your fault. You are allowed to make choices for your body. Taking advantage of someone is never an excuse for assault and does not mean that it was your fault even if alcohol or drugs were consumed.

Immediate Steps After Sexual Assault

In the moments after a sexual assault, your priority should be ensuring your safety and getting out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible. If you are in immediate danger, dial 911. Help will come to you, wherever you are. You should also seek medical attention. This is important even if you do not have visible injuries, as sexual assault can result in internal injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy.

Beyond your physical health and safety, it is equally important to take care of your mental health. Sexual assault in any form is a traumatic experience.  If you are not comfortable sharing this experience with those close to you, consider reaching out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, other resources included within this post, or local supporters, such as Victim Advocates.

Preserving Evidence After Sexual Assault: The Role of Forensic Exams in Legal Proceedings

Physical evidence from a sexual assault can be crucial in a legal investigation. It can corroborate the victim’s account of the incident and potentially identify the abuser if they are not known to you. Altering or tampering with evidence can compromise its integrity, making it less reliable in court. Altering evidence includes discarding clothes, showering, or washing items that could hold DNA or other forensic evidence.

A SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) exam (also known as a SAFE exam [Sexual Assault Forensic Exam]) is typically performed by a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) to collect evidence.  It is best conducted as soon as possible, ideally within 72 hours, to ensure the collection of viable samples. Medical professionals are trained to collect evidence in a way that preserves it for testing, which can include samples from the body, clothing, and possibly from the crime scene. It is important for survivors to know their options and have autonomy in deciding whether or not to undergo a forensic exam. While collecting evidence can be important for a potential case, the survivor’s well-being is paramount. Deciding against a forensic examination does not invalidate your experience, nor does it take away your right to report the assault.

How to Report Sexual Assault

If you are in immediate danger, call 911! To report sexual abuse after the immediate danger has passed, you can call the direct line of your local police station or visit the station in person. If you are on a college campus you may also be able to contact campus-based law enforcement to report the abuse.

However, we recognize that interactions with law enforcement can cause additional trauma. There are other options available for reporting the assault with support from trained professionals. If you are being treated for injuries resulting from sexual assault, tell a medical professional that you wish to report the crime. You can also choose to have a rape kit completed. To find a local health facility that is prepared to care for survivors, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). [5]

You are not required to report to law enforcement to receive a rape kit. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 has made it easier for someone to have a “Jane Doe rape kit,” where they are given a code to identify themselves if they choose to report later.[6]

Legal Process and Options: How Long Do You Have to Report Sexual Assault?

A common question victims ask is “How long do I have to report sexual assault?” You may have delayed because of fear, or stigma, or maybe you did not realize that what happened to you was sexual assault before hearing someone else’s story, or an educational piece such as this blog post.

There is no limitation on when a victim can report a crime to the police. However, in many states, there is a limit on when charges can be filed, and a case can be prosecuted. This is called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations may vary based on various factors. Such as the age of the victim at the time of abuse, the date of abuse (as the law changes over time), and the specifics of the abuse. In Florida, the criminal statute of limitations depends on specifics of the acts committed and the ages of the offender and victim, as outlined in Fla. Stat. §§ 95.11(9) and 775.15.

The time limit for filing a civil case for sexual abuse in Florida is generally four years from the date the abuse happened, as stated in Florida Statutes §95.11(3)(n). If the abuse occurred over time, you have four years from the last incident to file your case. If you wait longer than four years, it may be too late to take your case to civil court. There are rare exceptions, but generally, if you try to file after the deadline, the defense lawyer will probably ask the court to dismiss your case, and the court is likely to agree.

Understanding Statutes of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse Cases in Florida

If the victim of sexual abuse was under 16 years old at the time of the abuse, Florida law (Fla. Stat. 95.11(9)) allows more time to report. There is no deadline to file a civil case for sexual abuse involving a child under 16. However, this doesn’t apply to cases that were already beyond their statute of limitations on or before July 1, 2010. This is because, as of 2010, Florida removed the time limit to file these cases. So, if the abuse happened when the victim was under 16, and it was on or after July 2, 2010, they can report it at any time, with no statute of limitations.

For sexual battery claims involving 16- and 17-year-olds and other child sexual abuse claims, the statute of limitations is age 25 (age of majority, 18, plus 7 years) or within 4 years after leaving the dependency of the abuser.[7]

Although the statute of limitations in Florida is generally four years for a sexual abuse case, it is important that victims who intend to file a claim consult with a sexual assault attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney, like those at Lipinski Law, can help ensure the case is based on readily available evidence that will be admissible in court.  It is always important to evaluate your case with a trained lawyer in sexual assault cases because interpreting the statute of limitations is complicated and should include multiple reviews by a lawyer if one says “too much time has passed.”  Visit RAINN[8] or CHILD USA[9]’s state law databases to learn more about the law and statute of limitations outside of Florida or consult with a lawyer licensed in that particular state.

Empowering Survivors: Understanding and Supporting Victims of Sexual Assault

As a community, we can support survivors by listening to their stories, believing them, and validating their experiences. We must also educate ourselves on sexual assault and consent and work towards creating a culture of respect and consent. It is vital to remember that sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault, and the responsibility lies solely with the perpetrator.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, it is important to seek support. There are many organizations and resources available to survivors, including crisis hotlines, counseling services, and support groups. The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) is a free and confidential service that provides crisis support and referrals to local resources.  There are also amazing local resources.  For example, Palm Beach County Victim Services helps survivors obtain access to free therapy from professionals, among other resources. Palm Beach County’s Victim Services website provides a list of local, state, and national websites to support victims. [10]

Exploring Legal Options

Even if you’re uncertain about taking legal action against your abuser, it’s a good idea to understand how to report sexual assault. You can talk to a legal professional, such as the Florida sexual assault attorneys at Lipinski Law, to understand your options and what could result from a lawsuit. We know that revisiting such painful memories can be tough, so we’ll provide you with patient and empathetic guidance as we explore these discussions.

Lipinski Law helps survivors of sexual abuse hold defendants accountable, including abusers and/or third parties who contribute to these perpetrators conducting these crimes. For a confidential consultation, request a Confidential Consultation on our website.[11]


[1] Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. “National Crime Victimization Survey,” cited by RAINN. “Scope of the Problem: Statistics.” RAIN: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem.

[2] RAINN. “Scope of the Problem: Statistics.” RAINNhttps://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem.

[3] RAINN. “Sexual Assault.” RAINNhttps://rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault.

[4] RAINN. “Sexual Assault.” RAINNhttps://rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault.

[5] RAINN. “Reporting to Law Enforcement.” RAINNhttps://www.rainn.org/articles/reporting-law-enforcement.

[6] RAINN. “Reporting to Law Enforcement.” RAINNhttps://www.rainn.org/articles/reporting-law-enforcement.

[7] CHILD USA. “Florida Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations.” CHILD USAhttps://childusa.org/law/florida/sex-abuse-sol/. – this resource also gives an overview of the Statute of Limitations for other states

[8] RAINN. “Policy & Legislation.” RAINNhttps://apps.rainn.org/policy/.

[9] CHILD USA. “Law.” CHILD USAhttps://childusa.org/law/.

[10]Palm Beach County. “Victim Assistance Resources.” Palm Beach County Governmenthttps://discover.pbcgov.org/publicsafety/victimservices/Pages/Victim-Assistance-Resources.aspx..

[11] Contact Lipinski Law https://lipinskilaw.com/sexual-assault/

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