If you are considering making a statement to police or giving evidence at court, there is a lot to consider. Reporting sexual abuse or sexual assault to the police, or giving evidence at court, is always a big decision. There might be so much you want to say in preparing your statement, and in ensuring your voice is heard.
We recognise that making the choice to provide evidence, whether it is in writing or in person, in public or private, with your name attached or anonymously, is a big step. Our concern is to support you and prioritise your well-being as you go through this process. This page offers some suggestions about what to expect, possible personal reactions or responses that providing a statement might trigger, and how you might take time to look after yourself.
If you would like more direct support, Living Well staff are available to walk with you through this process. Please get in touch. If you would like some legal advice, knowmore is an independent legal service offering free advice for institutional sexual abuse.
Before you start
Before you start, it can be helpful to centre yourself, to get yourself in a good frame of mind, and to be clear about why you are doing this. Not everyone who has experienced sexual abuse makes a report to police. It is your choice to do this.
Before you start, you might want to consider and record:
- What is your motivation in making a report?
- What does your decision suggest about what is important to you and what difference you hope to make?
- How will you look after yourself throughout the process?
- What have you found helpful or not helpful in looking after yourself in the past?
- Who might you talk with that could support you in putting together a submission?
You will note that these questions are about you in the present. In posing these questions, we are centring your contribution and becoming clear about what supports your well-being. This is deliberate. Research tells us that before asking people questions about what happened, it is important to take time to ensure they are well resourced and properly supported. You don’t ask fire fighters to go into a burning house without the right equipment!
You might find it useful to look at our Guide for Men for information on common challenges and ways of looking after yourself.
Ideally, it will be helpful if you can access support from someone who is experienced in assisting adults who have been sexually abused in childhood. This person should have a working knowledge of police and court processes to support you.
If you are thinking of starting to put together a statement now, we suggest you:
- Take time to find a place where you feel safe and comfortable, and are unlikely to be disturbed.
- Don’t try to do it all in one hit. Take plenty of breaks, step outside, go for a walk, make yourself a tea or refreshing drink.
- Make sure that you have some activities that you find energising booked in for either later on in the day or the next couple of days.
Be aware that making a statement is likely to stir up strong emotions, especially if this is the first time you have spent time remembering your experiences, talking about them, or writing them down. Going into detail about the very things that you might have worked very hard to forget or avoid thinking about can be a trigger for overwhelming feelings and memories that can quickly have you feeling ‘out of control.’ Writing a statement might trigger different responses for different people.
Some possible responses can include:
- Experiencing similar physiological reaction to the time of the trauma (fight/flight/freeze).
- Re-experiencing the abuse through flashbacks or nightmares.
- Feeling numb and shut down.
- Becoming hyper-alert, panicky, having racing thoughts; and intense feelings of anger, sadness or depression.
Be aware that you may also feel like using some ‘old’ coping strategies that you have used in the past to cope with increased stress. Some men have reported that writing a statement of ‘what happened’ can be both confronting and validating. Writing it down in black and white can make it feel all the more ‘real.’
Take your time
If you can feel yourself getting stirred up, or finding it difficult to say what you want to say, stop writing. Take a break and do something that grounds you in the present and provides a sense of control for you. This might be as simple as doing the washing up and putting stuff away in the kitchen.
Take time to:
- Look around and remind yourself where you are, and the skills and resources you have now as an adult.
- Reach out, become better informed, and make sure you have the support you need now.
- Make use of grounding exercises (for example, mindful breathing). See the ‘managing difficulties’ page for ideas.
- Make use of your 5 senses to bring yourself back to the present. Sit in a safe and comfortable place, and take some time to notice and describe to yourself 5 things, using each of your 5 senses (touch, sight, smell, taste, sound).
Take care when looking back
Do take care in looking back and writing down what happened. We recommend that you take time to notice how you are both similar and different now from that child or young person that was subjected to the abuse. It is not uncommon for adults, when looking back at sexual abuse they have been subjected to in the past, to ‘forget’ that they were children or young people at the time, and to judge themselves by unrealistic adult standards. For example, they may berate themselves for being ‘naïve,’ or for being ‘tricked’ by the person/people that abused them, or for being unable to stop the abuse. While this is understandable, in the sense that it is natural to think about how the abuse could have been prevented or stopped, take care that responsibility for the abuse, or stopping the abuse, is not unfairly placed on a child.
It might be useful to pause and consider:
- How old were you? How old were the people committing the abuse?
- What knowledge, power and influence did the person committing the abuse have that you did not have?
- What tactics were used by the people committing the abuse to keep you from speaking up?
- What might have happened if you tried to tell someone?
- What other factors got in the way of you telling?
Men who have been sexually abused speak of ‘not understanding what was happening,’ confronting expectations “that even at a young age, that as a male, they should have been able to stop it or get away.” Worrying “that people would judge them and think they were gay.” Worrying “that people would treat them as if they were a potential perpetrator of abuse,” “not knowing anyone to talk to who might understand,” or “just wanting to lock it away, bury it and forget about it.” See Men and disclosure: Deciding to tell.
Writing your story
You might decide, after putting together your statement, that you want to write more of your story. This is likely to be a different, more expansive story, as one man who attended our service stated:
Sexual abuse is something that I experienced. It is not who I am.”
Writing your story can be useful. The process of writing can help organise what may have been jumbled up, confusing, overwhelming thoughts, feelings and memories. It helps to put them in the context of your broader life. Writing things down can help provide order and structure and in the process increase your sense of control. Writing your story is an opportunity for you to provide an account of your life and you in relation to what you define as what is important for you.
It is important to be aware of the difference between writing your story in the way you want to, AND writing an account of an event or series of disturbing events where someone else has determined what information is relevant, and how it is to be structured. This is why giving evidence as a witness in court, in response to prosecuting counsel and defence counsel questions, can be an unsettling experience. It can leave some people feeling dissatisfied because they did not have a chance to say what they wanted to say in the way they wanted to say it.
If you do decide to write your story, you will decide what you want to say and how you want to say it: Where the story starts, what you consider is important and needs to be included, and where to from here. This is about you and your life and future.
Prioritise your wellbeing
The decision to make a statement or provide evidence to the courts is an important one. In putting together a statement, take time to make sure you have included all of the evidence you consider important. Ensure you feel you have had your say. Also, we invite you to prioritise your well-being.