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Resources and Information for Victims of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a crime. The role of the criminal justice system is to hear the voice of victims, investigate the case, and prosecute people accused of crimes. Reporting and prosecution are effective ways of countering sexual assault. When the criminal justice system holds sex offenders accountable for their criminal acts, the community is protected by lowering the chances of sex offenders re-offending.

This page is meant to provide information on what victim’s can anticipate as part of the process following a sexual assault and ro provide victim resources that are available. . 

The Role of the Victim

Victims have a choice about their role. If they choose to make a police report, they will be the most important witness for the prosecution. By reporting the crime and participating in the investigation and prosecution of the offender the victim is helping society hold the person accountable and giving the courts a way to protect the community. Whether or not a victim chooses to make a police report, there is community-based support. 

Obtaining a sexual assault protection order in Clark County.  

For free, confidential, community based assistance and filing information contact the YWCA of Clark County Sexual Assault Program: 360-695-0501.


To report a crime, call 9-1-1. In most cases a uniformed police officer will meet with the victim and take the initial report. The uniformed officer may also gather evidence from a crime scene. In some cases, the police officer will take a report over the phone. The police officer will give this information to a detective.


Detectives with specialized training conduct the follow-up investigation including interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence such as the medical report, and sending specimens to the crime lab. The victim will almost always be interviewed. If the accused person is known to the victim, the detective will usually interview him or her. If the suspect is unknown to the victim, detectives will try to figure out who the perpetrator is . If a suspect is identified, the victim may have to identify the person by looking at pictures or going to a line-up. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for the investigation to be completed, depending on the case.

Filing Charges

Once the prosecutor receives the information from the police, the material is reviewed. Sometimes the prosecutor meets with the victim. In order for the case to be prosecuted, it is almost always necessary for the victim to be able and willing to testify in court if necessary. If charges are filed, the particular charges depend on exactly what happened and if the charges can be proven in court. The victim will be informed about the charges to be filed against the suspect. If charges are not filed, the prosecutor explains the reasons for this decision to the victim. Sometimes there is not enough evidence for the case to be proven in court, even though a crime occurred. It usually takes a few months for the decision to be made.

Arresting the Suspect

The police may arrest the suspect if they have “probable cause” to believe a crime was committed, even before charges are filed. However, this does not always happen. When suspects are arrested and put in jail, there is a hearing to determine whether the suspect should be released, and if released, what conditions are on the suspect. Many suspects are released on bail if they promise to return for court appearances. The judge tells the suspect not to contact the victim(s) or witness(es) in any manner – in person, by telephone or by mail. If the suspect or anyone connected to the suspect bothers the victim they need to notify the detective and/or prosecutor immediately during business hours and after hours should call 9-1-1.

The Defendant

Once charges are filed, the suspect is called a defendant. He or she hires a lawyer or has one appointed if he or she cannot afford one. The defendant’s lawyer is called a defense attorney and represents the interests of the defendant. The defense lawyer’s job is to make sure that the defendant’s rights are protected. Under our legal system, the prosecutor has to prove that the crime happened because the defendant is considered legally innocent until proven guilty in court. The defense lawyer is allowed to talk with all witnesses, including the victim, before the trial. But the victim should never discuss the case with the defense lawyer unless the prosecutor is present. No matter what a defense lawyer or someone working for the defense lawyer says, the victim has a right to have the prosecutor and a legal advocate there and should not agree to talk alone with the defense lawyer. The prosecutor can schedule the appointment. The defendant has to appear in court several times for hearings. The victim does not have to be present. At these hearings, the defendant is informed of the charges or decisions are made about pleading guilty or going to trial. 

Pleading Guilty

Defendants often plead not guilty at the first court appearance so the court can make sure they have been given all their rights. But after that, defendants can decide to plead guilty any time up until the trial. In many cases, defendants will plead guilty in a plea bargain deal: The prosecutor and the defense lawyer come to an agreement about what charges the defendant will plead guilty to and the recommendation for the sentence. The prosecutor informs the victim about plea-bargaining and considers the opinion of the victim and the victim’s family, if the victim is a child.

Going to Court

A trial is held only if the defendant is pleading “not guilty” (not admitting the offense). The prosecutor then has to prove the charges to a jury or a judge beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is a trial, the victim will get a subpoena (a legal document ordering attendance in court), which will include a trial date. Since most cases do not start on the date noted on the subpoena, the victim will need to call and find out when he or she will be needed. The subpoena lists a name and a telephone number to call. The legal advocate can help with finding out about the case schedule. The prosecutor contacts the victim before the trial to go over the questions that will be asked, explain court procedures, and prepares the victim for testifying in court. The victim is the main witness, but other witnesses or evidence may be brought into court. The victim must testify in almost all cases and be cross-examined by the defense attorney. The defendant may or may not testify, but must be in court.

Sexual Assault Adult Victim Rights

As a victim or survivor of a crime, Washington state law provides that reasonable efforts be made to ensure the following rights:

Victim Resources

Visit the Washington State Crime Victims Compensation page to find out if you qualify for compensation and to access the application.