Reporting the crime
The suspicion that one’s child has been sexually assaulted is shocking to parents, as well as to others closely related to the child.
In this situation, it can seem overwhelming and harsh to have to go through a police investigation and perhaps a court case. But this is necessary to gain a full picture of what has happened to the child. It is also the only way to bring the guilty person to justice.
The police and the prosecution service know this is an emotionally demanding process and will do their best to help you and your child along the way.
When the police receive a report of child sexual assault, they immediately appoint a contact person that you and your child can call if you have questions or need to talk about the case. The contact person is either a police officer or a prosecutor.
A child who has been sexually assaulted is entitled to free legal counsel. This is called a legal advocate. This person will safeguard the interests of your child throughout the criminal proceedings. You can read more about legal advocates here.
The police's questioning of children and young persons
When there is suspicion that a child has been sexually assaulted, the police open an investigation into the case. They usually begin by talking to the person who reported the assault and others with knowledge of the case. It is usually crucial to hear the child’s own explanation of what happened.
The interview with the child will be done as soon as possible after the assault is reported. It may be conducted as an ordinary interview or as a video-recorded interview depending on the age of the child. In the time leading up to the interview, it is important for adults to avoid asking the child about the sexual assault – as far as this is possible. Questions can cloud the child’s memory and make it more difficult for the police to find out exactly what happened.
Children aged 12 or under will usually be video-recorded during interviews. This means the child’s own explanation is recorded on video. The video may be used as evidence during the court proceedings, so the child does not have to give evidence as a witness in court. The police officer who interviews your child during video-recording has been specially trained for the job.
Usually, the police officer visits the child at home before the interview. At that time, the child is told how and where the interview will take place. This prepares the child for the interview and helps make him or her feel more secure about what is going to happen. The purpose of visiting the child at home is so the child can see and talk to the person who will later be conducting the interview. Your child will not be asked about the sexual assault during this visit. The home visit gives the police officer an impression of your child and his or her language development. This makes it easier to prepare a good interview session.
Video-recorded interviews are usually conducted in a ‘children's house’ specially equipped for the purpose. Normally, only the child and the police officer are in the room. There will also be an interpreter if needed. If necessary for the child to feel more secure about the situation, another person who knows the child well may also be present. This could be a nursery teacher from the child’s day-care centre, a grandparent, or another family member. It must not be a person who will be testifying later.
The video is shown simultaneously on a TV screen in another room at the children's house. In this room are the police officer handling the case, a prosecutor, the child’s legal advocate, and the defence counsel for the suspect. There will also be a representative from the local authority social services to support the child and help ensure that the interview is carried out as sensitively as possible.
Parents or close relatives must not be present during the interview. However, if you accompany your child to the interview, there will be a place at the children's house where you can wait until the interview is finished.
The suspect must not be present during the interview either, but may later see the recording together with his or her defence counsel.
Children aged over 12 are usually called in for an ordinary interview by the police, and they may also be called as witnesses in court. Ordinary interviews take place in a room at the police station. Normally, only the child and the police officer are in the room. The legal advocate and a representative from the local authority may also be present. What the child says is taken down in a report.
The police will tell you if a medical examination is needed. Is it up to you whether to allow your child to be examined by a doctor, but in some cases it is necessary to secure evidence. You will have to give your consent to the examination. The child will be examined at the hospital casualty department, the Centre for Victims of Rape, or the Centre for Victims of Sexual Abuse by people who are trained to examine victims of sexual assault.
Questioning of children and young persons in court
If your child’s testimony was recorded on video, the child will not usually be called as a witness in court. Instead, the recording will be played in court. If the police have interviewed your child without a video recording, however, he or she may be called on to testify in court. If the child is summoned as a witness, he or she has a duty to appear in court. The legal advocate will accompany the child in court and can also tell you how the court proceedings will take place. You can read more about giving evidence in court here.
If you are not going to be called upon to testify, you will be permitted to be present in court. If you have to testify, you will be permitted to remain in the courtroom after giving evidence.
In most cases, the session will be closed while your child testifies. This means no spectators may be present. As a general rule, this also applies to the child's parents. This will also be the case when the video-recording of the child being interviewed is played in court. Here you can read more about hearings in closed sessions and about special considerations that may be made in the child’s interests.
You can read about the criminal justice process here.
Children who have been sexually assaulted can claim compensation. The compensation will be paid out of public funds, and the offender may later be required to repay the amount. The child’s legal advocate can answer any questions you might have about compensation. The legal advocate can also help calculate the claim and ask for compensation in court on behalf of the child.
Read more about compensation under the Victims Compensation Act and about the option of obtaining a legal advocate.
Notice about release
In some cases, you can ask the police to notify you when the perpetrator has finished serving his or her sentence or is released on probation. This is particularly relevant in cases of gross violence or sexual assault. You can also ask the police to inform you of the perpetrator's first authorised temporary unaccompanied leave from prison.
For you to receive this information, the perpetrator must have been remanded in custody prior to conviction.
Your legal advocate or the police can tell you more about your options.
Who can help?
If you need advice or guidance in addition to what the police, the prosecution service, or your legal advocate gives you, there are several places you can contact. Your local authority can often help if you and/or your child needs support after the sexual assault. In some cases, your own doctor can refer your child to a psychologist.
Here you can read more about the other advisory services available to parents and other close relatives of children who have been sexually assaulted.