Amnesty International India's effort to ensure that women who choose to report sexual violence can do so safely, with dignity and without facing prejudice.

A woman who chooses to report sexual violence to the police should be able to do it in an environment that is empowering and non-intimidating. A more confident survivor is also likely to be more forthcoming with details, which can lead to a more accurate report.

One reason may be because the people a survivor may choose to call for support aren’t clear about the law, or the processes that need to be followed. The quickest and surest solution to a problem is when people know enough to help them take action.

Sexual violence isn’t limited to just physical harm. The law was changed in 2013 to cover a broader range of sexual violence, including sexual harassment, assault, voyeurism, stalking, trafficking and more forms of rape. Any woman who has faced any of these forms of sexual violence can choose to file an FIR.

Let's start with the basics

What is an FIR?

An FIR is a First Information Report. It is an account of the crime committed from the survivor's perspective, and is the first document that needs to be prepared by the police to initiate investigations.

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The survivor need not be the one who files the FIR. A witness to the incident, or a friend who has sufficient knowledge of the crime, can also file an FIR on the survivor’s behalf. But it is crucial that they do so only once they have her full consent, along with her willingness to be part of the investigation that will follow. Otherwise, the reporting can exclude and disempower the survivor.

Ideally, the survivor, after seeking as much support as needed, should feel empowered enough to make a decision about reporting. While every woman who has experienced sexual violence has the right to report, whether she decides to do so or not, is ultimately her choice.

You've chosen to file an FIR. Where do you go?

An FIR can be registered at any police station. The report will then be transferred to the station it concerns. Additionally, the complainant need not be physically present to start the process of lodging an FIR- she can call or send an e-mail.

If the woman is mentally or physically disabled, either temporarily or permanently, the police officer must go to her home or a place convenient for her to register the complaint. If the offence registered is rape, the same procedure is applicable.

In the case of offences like sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking, rape & gang rape, the report must only be recorded by a woman police officer.

What is the process?

You can file an FIR either in writing or verbally. The officer preparing the report needs to make a written copy.

Filing the FIR as soon as possible after the incident enables more detailed reporting, increases the report’s credibility in the eyes of the police, and facilitates timely action. Any delay may require additional explanation.

While filing the FIR, ensure that the basic details–date, place and time–are mentioned.

Be as detailed and explicit as possible while giving information. Euphemisms don’t help and the police may question you until they get all the information they require for an investigation.

If you're unaware of legal details about offences, don't hesitate to inform the officer. But knowing the law before registering a complaint could ensure that the FIR is registered accurately.

Always cross-check details in your report

Once the report is prepared, it is mandatory for the officer to read it back to you so that you can verify that your account has been taken down exactly the way it was narrated. If the officer does not read it out, ask them to do so. Don’t hesitate to ask for changes to be made; ensure that the report is as clear and accurate as it can be.

Get your own copy!

Only the person filing the FIR (be it the complainant or her representative/relative/friend) needs to sign the original FIR. The survivor or their representative should receive a copy within 24 hours.

Your copy will contain an FIR Number, which acts as a reference for all future follow-ups. Once this is handed over, the process of filing the FIR is complete.

The Right to Report is yours. And there are provisions in place to help you exercise this right.

Can the Police refuse to file an FIR?

No. Under no circumstances can you be refused the right to file an FIR. There are laws in place to protect this right—police personnel can face a penalty of up to two years of imprisonment for refusal to file an FIR.

If a police officer or police station refuses to register an FIR you can appeal to a higher authority (for instance an SP or DCP). If they refuse, then go to a magistrate (for example District Magistrate, Chief Judicial Magistrate or Chief Metropolitan Magistrate).

What happens next?

Once you receive a copy of the FIR, the Investigating Officer should produce the survivor in front of a magistrate to record their statement within 24 hours. Technically, the investigation starts as soon as the FIR is registered. After the investigation, if the police believe there is enough evidence for the suspect to be prosecuted, a charge sheet will be filed.

You are entitled to a court-appointed lawyer, however it can be helpful to consult your own lawyer help you through the next steps. Just make sure you take a copy of your FIR along for the lawyer to review.

The survivor can get updates on the status of investigation from the Investigation Officer. But don't wait to hear back. Take the initiative and follow up with the police to stay informed.

Your Report has the power to change things. When you report, you can help change notions about reporting.

Some states are trying to make the process easier for survivors who choose to file an FIR.

For example, Delhi has put in place clear guidelines for the police to follow while registering reports related to sexual violence.

In 2013 alone, 3,09,546 women in India reported some form of sexual violence, which is a 26.7% increase from the previous year. Increased reporting can lead to more accountability, more awareness, and in turn a more empowering reporting environment.

You can help achieve this by getting involved. The 'Ready to Report' Campaign works towards build a better environment for reporting sexual violence to the police. Give a missed call to 080-88255533 to join Amnesty International India in this effort, and learn more about the Campaign.

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