The sexual assault investigation process can be a difficult time for the victim. We always want to approach every investigation as objectively as possible, which is incredibly essential in ensuring that a fair process is carried out. A survey showed that one in three working  Australians were victims of sexual harassment over the past five years. This is a high number considering that many other incidents likely didn’t end up being reported to the company or investigated. The sexual assault investigation process needs to be handled with sensitivity and ensure that all the people involved have been given resources that will allow them to get help if needed. 

Why didn’t you say something? 

In many situations when a sexual assault victim comes forward with a complaint, usually to their friends, the first question they ask is ‘why didn’t you say something?’. It is important that as a company the employees understand the importance of listening to victims of sexual assault but also ensuring that there is enough evidence so there’s no wrongful action taken against an individual who is innocent. Creating a friendly culture where employees know there won’t be retaliation for them reporting sexual assault or other kinds of sexual harassment will be a huge win for any organisation. 

The sexual assault investigation process 

To assist investigators with the sexual assault investigation process it would be advisable to have in hand the company policies, including the code of conduct. It’s critical to remember that sexual assault cases may be criminal in nature if they are severe. This is why quality documentation is necessary. 

Here are the recommended steps: 

1. Explain to employees the plan

2. Interview all parties 

3. Gather any relevant evidence 

4. Handle the investigation results

1. Explain to employees the plan 

After a report of sexual assault comes in, the company should speak to the individual who made the complaint as well as the accused. Sexual assault could range from inappropriate touching to rape. Talking to all individuals will help establish the next steps of the process. 

Once the investigation team is chosen, inform all relevant parties of what the plan is, the timeline, what the requirements will be and what the allegations are. At this stage, part of the plan could include an employee being suspended. The individual being suspended should know what this means for their salary, their role and how the outcome will affect their livelihood.  

The better the communication is at the beginning of the sexual assault investigation process, the more secure and comfortable employees will be as there will be very few question marks.

At this point, depending on the severity of the allegations, it might be advisable for the complainant to report this to the police early, provided they are comfortable with doing so. For potentially criminal allegations it is always advisable to let the police do their job first, and then proceed based on the police outcome.

2. Interview all parties 

After the initial interviews, the investigators will need to talk to both the person who made the complaint and the person who allegedly assaulted the complainant. They will also need to interview each witness separately to get their perspectives on what happened. It might be possible that there aren’t any witnesses to interview as well. 

Ensure that you book or set out a quiet and low foot traffic place to hold the interviews as you want as few people as possible around the interview room. If you have some questions in mind, share them with the investigators. Try to keep the questions open-ended. It is also advised that when you come up with questions, you also write the purpose of the question to understand what kind of information you are trying to gather. 

For example, it would be a good idea to separate questions by category. Some could be focusing on establishing credibility, others could be focusing on parties involved, location, time and type of incident etc. This will assist in preventing repetitive questions and making the interview frustrating or tiring. 

To conduct interviews with remote workers our clients use Polonious. With our SimpleToConnect integration they can connect with anyone, anywhere and carry out a secure interview where all notes can be saved directly into our system. 

sexual assault investigation process

3. Gather any relevant evidence 

Case management systems are always preferred during an investigation as they can fast-track the process and make evidence gathering and storing easier. Investigators will need to collect a range of evidence, including indirect and direct, digital and physical evidence. To ensure that the sexual assault investigation process is carried out correctly, the investigators will need to analyse witness statements, CCTV footage, text exchanges and more. This will give them a good idea of what happened. 

In some scenarios, the incident may be subject to criminal charges. If the sexual assault is severe, the investigators may hand over the information they collected to the involved authorities. 

Once the evidence is collected, investigators will use software to determine whether it has been tampered with. As the original evidence has a lot of value, investigators should make copies of the original where applicable to prevent misplacing, theft or potential tampering. 

4. Handling the sexual assault investigation process outcomes

It is very important to remember that during a sexual assault investigation process, there can be two outcomes: 

  • Substantiated allegations
  • Unsubstantiated allegations 

Substantiated allegations

If the evidence shows that the event happened, the company will need to consider carefully what the next course of action is. As mentioned, depending on the severity, the case may need to be transferred to the police, if it hasn’t been already. When it comes to the work environment, the organisation may choose to:

  • Demote
  • Educate
  • Move the individual to a different department
  • Suspend
  • Dismiss the assailant 

The decision the company will take is critical as it will set an example of how other cases will be treated in the future. The right course of action will show the employees that the business values them and encourage them to speak up about similar issues and it discourages a toxic environment where different types of sexual misconduct can flourish. 

If the company decides to dismiss the assailant, they will need to provide solid proof as to why they came to that conclusion. If there is uncertainty about the result of the investigation, the alleged individual may view it as an unfair dismissal.

Unsubstantiated allegations 

There may not be enough evidence to substantiate the allegations. Note, this doesn’t mean the event didn’t happen. It’s important to note that unlike the criminal burden of proof, in this investigation you only need to decide based on the balance of probabilities (insert article link). If it’s more likely than not that the event occurred, that is sufficient for the allegations to be substantiated.

However, if they are unsubstantiated, it is important to be clear about why. If they are obviously false allegations, then you may decide to take action against the complainant. However, if there was merely a lack of evidence then it is still possible that the event occurred or that something similar happened which the complainant may still feel upset about. So it’s important to explain your reasoning carefully, so that they feel heard. It’s also important to make arrangements to separate the complainant from the respondent as much as possible and to make the complainant feel safe.

Important notes about the sexual assault investigation process

All employees should be undergoing sexual harassment training and the company should check whether they understand the training or if they have further questions. Focus on creating a program that doesn’t blame certain genders to prevent backlash or resistance. The training should be inclusive and represent all genders, as anyone could be a victim of sexual assault. Singling out one gender as the assailant and another gender as the victim could be damaging  Overall, the sexual assault investigation process can be difficult due to the nature of the incident 

If you are looking to make the sexual assault investigation process more efficient, and achieve a faster turnaround time, reach out! At Polonious we are ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 certified, and we always commit to delivering a high-quality system. We help investigators automate their tasks, improve their workflows and provide them with a safe place to store their evidence. Book a demo, and we will be happy to show you how it works.