To help you understand the legal processes better, here is a list of frequently asked questions
Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to replace professional support, guidance, advice, or diagnosis.
Trigger warning: A trigger is a word or an event that can cause an action to take place. In this toolkit certain words can be triggering for survivors. Which means that reading those words or sentences can cause a survivor to either feel uncomfortable or anxious and might even take them back to an unpleasant memory. If while reading someone does experience this, it is best to do a quick grounding exercise.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I go to the police?
Yes. In the event that you have been sexually harassed or assaulted or raped, you may file an FIR at the closest police station. Upon filing of the FIR, you must ensure that it is registered for the police to investigate and send the case to the relevant court.
When should I go to the police?
You should report the crime as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of the crime. In case you are not in a position to approach the police yourself, then your family may contact the police. If you choose not to report the case right away, you have the right to report a crime at any point in the future. However, at times, police may victim blame (blaming the victim for what has happened to them) rather than providing immediate support. If a police officer refuses to file or dismisses a complaint, read the following question to know your rights and available options.
If the police officer refuses to file an FIR and dismisses the complaint, what can the victim do?
It is mandatory for the police to register an FIR. If the police officer in charge refuses to register an FIR, the victim can send the information to the Superintendent of Police in writing. The Superintendent may conduct the investigation themselves or order a subordinate police officers to carry it out. Some States have the option of filing a complaint online as well. An e-FIR can also be filed for offences like rape, dowry death, etc. However, for offences such as assault and stalking only a complaint can be filed online. It can be later escalated into an FIR after seeking permission from the Magistrate.
Can I call the police to the location where the incident took place?
Yes, you can call the police to the location of the crime or wherever you are. When the police arrive, they can register an FIR on the spot as well. Please remember that the police cannot force you to be present at the police station to register an FIR.
What language should the FIR be filed in?
An FIR can be filed in any Indian language. Please file it in the language you are most comfortable in. Regardless of the language, once written, the police must read the FIR back to you to confirm that he has recorded all that you wanted to say.
Is the presence of a female officer necessary when I file my complaint?
While it is not mandatory that a female police officer is present at the time of filing an FIR, most women prefer it. You may ask for a female police officer to be present if you want.
Am I required to sign the FIR?
Yes. It is absolutely necessary that you sign the FIR. The FIR should be signed only after the police officer (or you personally) has read out the contents of the FIR. If a survivor is unable to sign the FIR owing to illiteracy (if they cannot read and write), they may use a thumbprint to “sign” the FIR and confirm its details.
I am a woman with a disability and a victim of sexual violence. Do I have any additional rights?
Several services to safeguard the rights of women with disabilities have been provided in the law.
- They have the right to record their statement with the police in their home or any place of their choice.
- An interpreter or support person can be present along with the victim when the complaint is being recorded and during trial.
- Additionally, such information shall be videographed and the victim’s statement shall be videographed.
- Even the victim’s statement in front of the magistrate is to be recorded as soon as possible by the police officer.
What is a Zero FIR?
Irrespective of where the crime was committed, an FIR can be filed at any police station in India. This is called a Zero FIR. The police are duty bound to register the same. For example, if the crime took place in Noida, but the victim is a resident of Delhi, they can file a complaint in Delhi. The case will then be transferred to the relevant police station in Noida for further investigation.
Once the Zero FIR is filed, will the victim be required to undergo medical examination twice?
The survivor has to get a medical examination only once. Zero FIR is only a matter of jurisdiction (location), not process. If the Zero FIR has been registered in Delhi and the medical examination has been done (and report finalised) there’s no legal or procedural requirement to do it again in Mumbai.
Can I change the contents of the FIR once registered?
Once an FIR has been registered, its contents cannot be changed. However, you may provide the police with additional information at any time after the registration of the FIR.
Will the victim’s identity be made public?
The identity of a victim or survivor is to be kept private. The Supreme Court has directed the print and electronic media to not reveal the identity of the victim or survivor “even in a remote manner”. Releasing the name of a rape survivor is a crime under the IPC (section 228-A).
Can I ask the police for protection?
Yes, in case you fear for your safety after registering the FIR, you can ask the police for protection. The police are required to give you police protection because you feel vulnerable and unsafe. You may also approach the court of law for a protection order or a restraining order (this person will not be allowed near you) or an injunction (warning) against a person if you feel that such a person threatens your safety.
How long will the accused go to jail for?
If found guilty, the accused can be jailed for a minimum period of seven years, but which may extend to life imprisonment, and fined, depending on the exact nature of the assault. If the incident is termed as ‘rarest of the rare’ (cases of extreme violence, for example), the accused can be sentenced to death.
There are instances where the accused may be acquitted (all the charges against them will be dropped and they are deemed to be innocent), too. This happens for many reasons, including the lack of evidence, failure of the investigation agency/police, failure of the Prosecution to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt (which is not very easy to do), withdrawal of cases because of society, cultural, or family pressure, and sometimes, pressure from influential accused and/or compromises.
Are there special courts set up to hear cases brought under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989?
All scheduled offences mentioned in the Act are heard by special courts i.e. Exclusive Special Courts that have been set up under the Act. All proceedings before the Exclusive Special Courts are video recorded.
Is there a time frame within which the matters where the victim belong to Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribe should be decided?
The law states that in such scenarios the case should be decided within 2 months by these Special Courts. A victim or accused may appeal the decision of the Special Court to the High Court which is given authority to hear and dispose of the appeals within 3 months from admission of the appeal.
I am a victim of sexual violence and belong to the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribe category. Am I entitled to any monetary relief (financial aid)?
A victim can also claim monetary relief (financial aid) from the respective state governments with respect to the Scheduled Offences inter alia sexual crimes such as assault, voyeurism, stalking, outraging modesty, gang rape, etc. The victim is also entitled to travelling and maintenance expenses during investigation, inquiry and trial. Further, the victim is also provided with social-economic rehabilitation during investigation, inquiry and trial.
Can I independently (on my own) go to a doctor for a medical examination?
Yes, you can independently go for a medical examination. In such cases, doctors are bound by a rule called Mandatory Reporting.
Is there a preferred hospital for getting myself medically examined?
A registered doctor at a private hospital is bound by law to treat you and collect evidence. Therefore, it is not necessary that you go to a government hospital. Refusing the treatment of rape survivors is punishable under Section 166 B of the IPC with imprisonment for a term upto one year, or with a fine, or with both. Health professionals need to respond fully and completely to the needs of survivors.
Can a victim have a bath before going in for a medical examination?
It is recommended that the victim does not have a bath, clean, change their clothes, go to the toilet (urinate or defecate) until after the medical examination is complete. However, this is not always possible. In such cases, please be aware that evidence may be lost. The medical report should state the delay, and record the intervening activities (like bath, etc.) which may explain the loss of evidence.
What number do I call to report a sexual crime?
You can contact the local police at their helpline number: 100. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has launched a national helpline (1091) for women. You can dial 1091 to report a sexual crime anywhere in India. You will be required to give details of the crime, your address, and phone number. A police unit will reach you soon to help you. You can also dial 181, a helpline available in all States of India.
What steps can I take if someone has sent me lewd/offensive messages online?
A crime committed over the internet (e.g. trolling, revenge porn, etc.) can be reported to the cyber cell of a police station. You may also lodge a complaint by using the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Online Crime Reporting Portal. You will be required to provide details about yourself, the accused, and the incident along with any supporting evidence. You can also directly file a complaint on the Cybercrime Reporting Portal against explicit online content.
Will I be required to go to court on each date of the hearing?
You will be required to appear before the Magistrate after filing of the FIR to record your statement. The public prosecutor then proceeds with the case and you will not be required to be present in court on each date of the hearing. You will be called for recording the evidence at a later date.
Does the victim have to pay a fee for the services of the public prosecutor?
No, the services are provided free of charge.
What is the duration of time within which cases must be closed?
There is no compulsory time frame - but there is an emphasis on fast tracking cases and prosecuting them at the earliest.
What evidence can the survivor try to preserve that could help in the process?
Any and all evidence that the survivor can gather is acceptable. Its validity may be contested by the other side, but a survivor is fully within their right to submit any and all evidence they may wish to present in order to strengthen their case.
As a victim of sexual violence, am I eligible for compensation?
“Compensation” is money given to a person in recognition of a loss, suffering, or injury. As per the Criminal Procedure Code, victims are to be given compensation under the State schemes. As per the Compensation Scheme for Women Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault/other Crimes, 2018, an application for award of interim/final compensation can be filed by the victim or her dependent before the State Legal Services Authority or the District Legal Services Authority.
It is mandatory that an FIR is filed and a copy of the FIR is shared by the Station House Officer/Superintendent of Police/Deputy Commissioner of Police with the State Legal Services Authority/District Legal Services Authority so that after the first stage of verification interim compensation is awarded. “Interim compensation” is the money the victim can receive in the time between the filing of the FIR and the end of the trial. This will be a percentage of the full amount of money.
Several factors are taken into consideration for awarding compensation, such as: How serious the crime was, how badly was the victim injured, financial status of victim, etc.
Further, the interim compensation so granted shall not be less than 25% of the maximum compensation to be awarded under the Scheme. This Schedule provides for minimum and upper limits of compensation. For instance, minimum limit for compensation to a rape victim is INR 4 lakhs and upper limit is INR 7 lakhs.
Time limit for claiming compensation: The Scheme also states that no claim for compensation shall be entertained after a period of 3 years from the date of occurrence of the offence or conclusion of the trial.
Compensation: money given to a person in recognition of a loss, suffering, or injury
Interim Compensation: money the victim can receive in the time between the filing of the FIR and the end of the trial. Interim compensation shall not be less than 25% of the maximum compensation to be awarded under the Scheme.
Final compensation: the full amount of money to be awarded to the victim under the Scheme.
How long will the court proceedings take?
Even though the law requires that the cases be heard and ended at the earliest, cases are often still going on in the trial courts for more than two years. The court proceedings are “in camera” i.e. the general public, litigants (the people involved in the case), and other lawyers are asked to leave the courtroom and only the lawyers involved in the matter, the accused, family member of the victim, and the court staff remain inside the courtroom.
What language will the trial be conducted in?
The proceedings take place in the language the victim is comfortable in. The victim has the option of testifying either in the courtroom or through a video link in an adjoining room.
If you are looking to learn more about the different types of crimes against women, please refer to the appendix.
14. Nyaaya, India’s Law explained. First Information Report (FIR), Retrieved from https://nyaaya.in/topic/first-information-report-fir/how-to-file-an-fir-1#qna-2
15. Nyaaya, India’s Law explained. FIR filed for women related offenses, Retrieved from https://nyaaya.in/topic/first-information-report-fir/fir-filed-for-women-related-offences
16. Interview with Ms. Anuradha Shankar, Additional DG (Training), Madhya Pradesh Police and Dr. Vineet Kapoor, Deputy Director Madhya Pradesh Police Academy
17. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
18. Nyaaya, India’s Law explained. Reporting Sexual Crimes, Retrieved from https://nyaaya.in/topic/sexual-crimes/reporting-sexual-crime
19. A study of pre-trial and trial stages of rape prosecutions in Delhi(Jan 2014-March 2015). Towards Victim Friendly Responses and Procedures for Prosecuting Rape