Police reporting in cases of sexual assault – a 10-year study of reported cases, unreported cases, and cases with delayed reporting

Sofie Stokbæk, Cecilie Ls Kristensen, Birgitte Schmidt Astrup*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The aim of this study was to identify characteristics of reported, later-reported and unreported cases of sexual assault. All cases with female complainants (> 15 years) of sexual assault, who had been examined at the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault (CVSA) in the Region of Southern Denmark in a 10-year period, were included. Retrospective data were collected from medico-legal examination reports and police reports. Descriptive bivariate analysis and logistic analysis were performed. Forensic pathologists examined 850 complainants of sexual assault in 2009-2018, of which 753 cases were included in this study. Of these, 191 cases (25%) were initially not reported to the police, but 53 women (7%) filed a police report, days, weeks or months later. There was a higher relative risk (RR) of not-reporting for young adults, for single women, if the accused was well known to the complainant, if the complainant experienced amnesia, or if there had been some degree of consensual physical interaction at time of the incident but before the assault. The non-reporters also showed a higher degree of delayed examination. The later-reporters only differed from the non-reporters in one parameter – they had a higher degree of partial amnesia. Interestingly, injuries (ano-genital or other) or verbal/physical resistance was not associated with reporting tendency, reflecting the modus of the local judicial system. The opportunity of a reflection period after a high-quality forensic examination, which is not dependent of police involvement, is essential for sexual assault complainants. Furthermore, education and guidance of victims and of the police and judicial system on the unique nature of sexual assault cases is important.

Original languageEnglish
JournalForensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)395-402
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Delayed reporting
  • Forensic examination
  • Medico-legal examination
  • Police reporting
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault


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