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10 Practical Takeaways from Reporting my Assailants

by Miriam Joelson

· Law Enforcement,Reporting,Sexual Assault

In 2016, I reported two men who raped me during my freshman year of college to the police. It’s not unusual for rape victims to wait weeks, months, or even years before reporting their assailants; in my case, almost a decade had passed. While the time it took me to gather my courage washed away any physical evidence of the crimes, it did give me time to prepare for my visit to the police station.

 

These are my biggest takeaways. They are directed at survivors preparing to report their assailants to the police, but I encourage allies — partners, friends, family, and co-workers — to educate themselves as much as possible about reporting, not reporting, things to say and not to say, and the enduring psychological effects of sexual assault.

Before the Day: Be Prepared

  • Get to know your detective. Call the police station ahead of time to schedule your interview. Once a detective is assigned to your case, take a few moments to email or call them to iron out the details of your day at the station. Having a recognizable face or voice in the room can humanize the experience.
  • Learn from other survivors. Each individual’s experience is different, and you know your own case best. But it can be helpful to learn from survivors who have already gone through the reporting process — even if it’s “only” for words of encouragement.
  • Build a community: No one should have to go through this alone. There are survivors and allies all around you (I created Project #HereForYou so you can identify them more easily). Confide in someone you trust, and know that you are not alone.

Day of: Make It Comfortable

  • Bring a friend. One of my dearest friends waited at the station for me. When my interview was over, she gave me a long hug and broke open a bar of chocolate. She asked me how I was feeling. She listened. She said things like, “you’re so brave,” and, “you did it.” I felt not only brave, but also loved.
  • Bring a bottle of water. The detectives on my case were incredibly kind, offering breaks during my testimony and a glass of water. The water did not last long. Describing some of the worst moments of my life in intimate detail was exhausting and dehydrating. A big bottle of water will not only quench your thirst, but will also give you a something to hold in your hands (mine were shaking).
  • Say “I don’t recall” if you can’t remember something. You don’t have to have an answer for every question. If you can’t remember something, it’s ok to say, “I don’t recall.”
  • Take the day off. Retelling the details of your assault can be emotionally exhausting, and you deserve to take the rest of the day off. After my interview, I went to lunch with two close girlfriends, treated myself to copious desserts, and took a long walk.

After Reporting: Be Kind to Yourself

  • Follow up with law enforcement. Detectives are busy. Make sure your case doesn’t fall through the cracks by checking in with the law enforcement officer assigned to your case.
  • Have a plan. Particularly for the days following your trip to the police station, it’s helpful to have a plan. If you can, schedule your interview toward the end of the week, so you can spend the weekend doing relaxing things that make you happy — be they spending time with family, going on a long hike with a trusted friend, or watching your favorite movies. Give yourself something special to look forward to.
  • Practice self-care. Self-care looks different for everyone. Some of the things that have helped me include avoiding violent TV shows and movies, meditation (I use Calm to help me sleep), getting fresh air, sunshine, exercise, saying ‘no’ to stressful or over-stimulating social obligations, and having meaningful conversations with loved ones.
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