Rape or sexual assault are sexual acts carried out on a person without that person agreeing /consenting to it, or where that person is/feels forced into it against their will. The legal definition of rape involves penile penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person without their consent. A sexual assault has occurred when a person’s vagina, anus or mouth is penetrated in a sexual way (not necessarily with a penis), or when a person is touched in a sexual way, by another person(s) without their consent.
Rape and sexual assault are forms of sexual violence. There is no excuse for sexual violence; it can never be justified, it can never be explained away and there is no situation where it is deemed understandable or acceptable. Rape and sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender, race, social status or religion. They are criminal offences and can be reported to the police in the same way as any other crime.
If you have been sexually assaulted, it is very important you know it was not your fault. Go somewhere you feel safe, don’t be afraid to get help. Talk to a friend or family member you trust or contact one of the support services below. For specialist medical attention and practical or emotional support following sexual violence (whether you decide to involve the police or not) your first point of contact should be a sexual assault referral centre (SARC). They have specially trained doctors, nurses and support workers to care for you.
You may want to report the assault to the police. You can do this direct yourself by calling 101 or your nearest SARC may assist you to do so. On the other hand, you don’t have to report the assault to police if you don’t want to and sometimes you may need time to think about what has happened first.
If you do report it, the police will investigate the assault. This will involve you having a forensic medical examination and making a statement about what happened. The police will pass their findings, including the forensic report, to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will decide whether the case should go to trial.
A forensic medical examination usually takes place at a SARC or in a police suite. A doctor or nurse specially trained in sexual assault forensic medicine examines you and takes swabs from you that can be used as evidence if your case goes to court. The earlier this takes place the better, preferably within seven days of the assault. Try not to wash or change your clothes immediately after a sexual assault. This may destroy forensic evidence that could be important.
You also need to consider if you have been put at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STI). If so you can receive emergency contraception, get tested for STIs and also be considered for Hepatitis B vaccination as post exposure prevention. Sexual assault referral centres will offer emergency contraception and sometimes give STI treatment when you first attend and/or before the results of your STI tests are available.
Where you go for help can depend on what’s available in your area and what you want to do. The below are organisations can help you decide
- Sexual health clinic
- Your GP
- Emergency (A&E) departments
- Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year) https://rapecrisis.org.uk/
- Women’s Aid
- Victim Support
- The Survivors Trust
- Survivors UK (for male victims of sexual assault)
- 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247
- The police, or dial 101
- In an emergency, dial 999