This is the next in my series of posts with advice directed at other rape survivors.
I encourage reporting to the police whenever possible, but unfortunately the police can be an ally to rapists through incompetence or through bias against certain rape victims.
Investigating rape cases completely and competently takes money and some police officers will view a report of a criminal sexual assault which meets the jurisdiction's statutory requirements as not worth the money if the rape victim isn't shot or stabbed or if the rape victim somehow seems suspect or not sufficiently traumatized.
To be in compliance with the US Violence Against Women Act, rape victims cannot be asked by investigators to take a polygraph test. Even if a polygraph isn't presented as a requirement for the investigation to continue, my recommendation is to never take a polygraph for one simple reason.
A police officer can lie to you after you've taken the polygraph and tell you that the polygraph proves that your story is a lie and use that lie to coerce you into recanting your report of rape.
Some officers wrongly believe that if you are telling the truth that their tricks won't work on you. Other officers simply don't care whether you are a real crime victim or not. An officer who wants the rape investigation stopped cold may use the threat of criminal charges against you and an offer to let the matter drop so that recanting seems like the only way out of a nightmare.
What person who has been raped would want to face this sort of treatment even if they believe that no jury would believe this lie? This investigative approach signals that your rapist is going to get away with raping you so you may naturally feel despondent. Many of us who have been raped feel crazy already and may question our perception. If we are presented with "proof" that we were not raped from someone we are taught to trust completely we could voice uncertainty about whether we were raped or not.
This uncertainty is proof of nothing except the power of an authority figure to use their position to coerce you into questioning what you know to be true. Yet it will be used as proof by rapists defense attorneys and rape denialists who openly acknowledge the existance of false confessions.
If you are being threatened with criminal charges demand a lawyer. Ignore any chatter about how that might make you look guilty. If they are going to treat you like a criminal then they need to give you all the rights that a criminal gets.
Rape victims can prevail over a biased system that seems determined to harm them and they can see their rapist convicted. But none of us who have been raped should have to prevail over the very systems which are designed to keep us safe.
If you know that those who are charged with upholding the law can turn on real victims then you can go in with a plan of what to do if you get an incompetent or malicious investigator. If there is a victim's advocate agency in your area I strongly encourage you to contact them before reporting and ask to have an advocate go with you to law enforcement. They can even help you get any information you need before deciding whether or not to report your rape.
A victim's advocate can help prepare you for questions which might seem hostile but which are part of an ethical and competent rape investigation. For example, if you get a rape kit done the police will need to know if you had consensual sex within a certain number of days and with whom. This is done not to embarrass you or shame you, it is done so that the DNA evidence which is collected can be matched to its owner.
I don't want to discourage you from reporting, but I want you to report with insight into bad police practices. Once you recognize that a trap can be set for you then you can know what is going on if that happens to you. I suggest logging details from all contact with law enforcement including the name of any investigators you talk to so that you can report that person's actions if necessary.
If the agency you are reporting to is large, request to speak to an investigator who is trained in sex crime investigation. If they have such an investigator, but that person is unavailable until the next day then wait if possible. If the agency is small, ask the investigator what specialized training he or she has. Make a note of this.
At all times please keep your personal safety in mind. This safety includes not only attacks from others but the impact of external actions on your ability to cope safely.
My local police force has worked extensively to improve their response to rape reports and to treat all those who report rape with dignity. I've been with victims as they reported and I never saw any investigator cross ethical boundaries. However, if I were ever raped again, even with everything I know, I would not report without a victim's advocate at my side. I would also not go to follow up meeting with law enforcement without an advocate. This is true even if I would be talking to the best sex crime investigator out there.
If you are treated like a criminal by an investigator after being raped know that it isn't you who is causing this. It is the investigator who either lacks training or ethics.
There are people who are working to make the criminal justice system stop being hostile to rape victims and many of these people are part of the law enforcement system. Look for those who understand this problem and then let them know what happened to you if you can.
If you have worked with respectful investigators or have received help dealing with bad investigators share that whenever appropriate especially to those who make funding decisions. Let those who control law enforcement funding know that specialized sex crime training is money well spent if you are safely able to do so.
If, like me, you did not report your rape or you cannot report your rape for whatever reason you are not guilty of any crime if or when your rapist decides to rape again. The barriers between most rape victims and justice are real and those who work to keep those barriers in place are the ones who have some responsibility for the continued success of serial rapists.
Correction: In certain situations you could be charged with a crime because of your rapist's actions. This can happen where your rapist is your husband or other family member and where later victims are children considered under your care. For more on this, check out Prawfs Blawg's series: Punishing Family Status.