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Rape and sexual assault


 If you have been sexually assaulted, whether as an adult or a young person, it is important to remember that it wasn’t your fault. Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. Don’t be afraid to get help.

Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre freephone helpline: 0808 802 9999

The helpline is open 12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year, providing support for female survivors, partners, family and friends

What is sexual assault?

A sexual assault is any sexual act that a person did not consent to, or is forced into against their will. It is a form of sexual violence and includes rape (an assault involving penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth), or other sexual offences, such as groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse or the torture of a person in a sexual manner.

Sexual assault is an act that is carried out without the victim’s active consent. This means they didn’t agree to it.

It is not uncommon for a victim of sexual assault to have no physical injuries or signs of their assault. But sexual assault is still a crime and can be reported to the police in the same way as other crimes.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2015 showed that police recorded 88,219 sexual offences, encompassing rape (29,265 cases) and sexual assault, and also sexual activity with children. This is a steep rise on previous years and probably reflects increased confidence in reporting sexual assault. However, many more sexual offences remain unreported.

Most sexual assaults are carried out by someone known to the victim. This could be a partner, former partner, relative, friend or colleague. The assault may happen in many places, but is usually in the victim’s home or the home of the alleged perpetrator (the person carrying out the assault).

"Sexual violence or assault can happen to anyone of any age: men, women and children," says Bernie Ryan, manager at St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Manchester. "For the victim, the extent of the sexual assault is no indication of how distressing they find it, or how violated they feel. It’s important that anyone affected receives the right advice and support."

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Getting help

If you’ve been sexually assaulted

If you've been sexually assaulted there are services that can help. You don’t have to report the assault to police if you don’t want to. You may need time to think about what has happened to you. However, consider getting medical help as soon as possible, because you may be at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

Try not to wash or change your clothes immediately after a sexual assault. This may destroy forensic evidence that could be important if you decide to report the assault to the police.

Where you go for help will depend on what’s available in your area and what you want to do. The following services will provide care and treatment or refer you to another service if you need more specialist help (such as a forensic examination):

  • a sexual assault referral centre (SARC), if there's one in your area
  • a doctor or practice nurse at your GP surgery
  • a voluntary organisation, such as Rape Crisis or Women’s Aid
  • the free, 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247
  • the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year)
  • a hospital accident and emergency department
  • a genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic
  • a contraceptive clinic
  • a young people’s service
  • NHS Direct (0845 4647)
  • the police
  • in an emergency, dial 999

Sexual assault referral centres

Sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) offer medical, practical and emotional support. They have specially trained doctors, nurses and support workers to care for you. If you decide to report the assault to the police, they can arrange for you to attend a SARC for medical care and, if you wish, a forensic medical examination.

If you have not reported the assault to the police, you can still refer yourself to a SARC for assessment and medical treatment to prevent some STIs and pregnancy.

If you refer yourself to a SARC and are considering reporting the assault to the police, the centre can arrange for you to have an informal talk with a specially trained police officer, who can explain what is involved.

There are also specially trained advisers available in some SARCs or voluntary organisations to help people who have been sexually assaulted. These independent sexual violence advisers (ISVA) can help victims get access to the other support services they need. They will also support you through the criminal justice system if you decide to report the assault to the police, including supporting you through the trial, should the case go to court.

You can tell someone you trust first, such as a friend, relative or teacher, who can help you get the support you need. SARC services and ISVA support are free to all, whether a resident of the UK or not.

TheSite is an organisation for young people that has made a video about what to expect if you visit a SARC. People of all ages may find this video useful.

Forensic medical examination

If you have been sexually assaulted, you don’t have to have a forensic medical examination. However, it can provide useful evidence if the case goes to court.

You can decide at any stage if you would like a forensic medical examination. However, the sooner this takes place, the more chance of collecting evidence. If the assault occurred more than seven days ago, it is still worth asking for advice from a SARC or the police about a forensic medical examination.

The forensic medical examination usually takes place at a SARC or in a police suite. The examination is carried out by a doctor or nurse specially trained in sexual assault forensic medicine.

The doctor or nurse will ask any relevant health questions – for example, about the assault or any recent sexual activity. They will take samples, such as swabs from anywhere you have been kissed, touched or had anything inserted. They will also take urine and blood samples and occasionally hair, depending on the information you provide about the assault, and also retain some clothing and other items.

If you haven’t decided whether to involve the police, any forensic medical evidence that's collected will be stored at the SARC to allow you time to decide if you do want to report the assault. An ISVA, sometimes called an advocate, will also offer practical and emotional support, whether or not you wish to involve the police.

If you do decide to report it to the police, a police officer specially trained in supporting victims of sexual assault will talk to you and help to make sure you understand what's going on at each stage.

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.

To find out more about what’s involved in an investigation and trial, you can:


Your details will be kept as confidential as possible. However, if there’s a police investigation or criminal prosecution linked to the assault, any material relating to it is ‘disclosable’. This means it may have to be produced in court.

If there is no investigation or prosecution, information about you won’t be shared without your permission unless there's a concern that anyone else is at significant risk of harm.

Supporting a victim of sexual assault

For relatives and friends of someone who has been sexually assaulted, The Havens website has advice on what you can do to help. The advice includes:

  • Don’t judge them, don’t blame them. A sexual assault is never the fault of the person who is abused.
  • Listen to the person, but don’t ask for details of the assault. Don’t ask them why they didn’t stop it. This can make them feel as though you blame them.
  • Offer practical support, such as going with them to appointments.
  • Respect their decisions – for example, whether or not they want to report the assault to the police.
  • Bear in mind they might not want to be touched. Even a hug might upset them, so ask first. If you’re in a sexual relationship with them, be aware that sex might be frightening, and don’t put pressure on them to have sex.
  • Don’t tell them to forget about the assault. It will take time for them to deal with their feelings and emotions. You can help by listening and being patient.
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What to do

What should I do immediately after a sexual assault or rape?

After a rape or sexual assault you may be affected emotionally and physically. Only you can decide what you feel up to doing in the following hours, days or weeks.

But there are certain pieces of advice we can offer you, so that you have the knowledge you need to make the right decisions for you, and get the support you need.

Safety first

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, the first thing you need to do is go somewhere you feel safe, such as the home of a close friend or family member.

Then, if you feel you're able to, you should consider telling someone you trust what has happened. You shouldn't feel ashamed or to blame for what has happened to you.

You should talk to:

  • a friend or family member
  • a specialised support organisation such as Victim Support on 0845 30 30 900
  • NHS Direct on 0845 4647

If you speak to someone from an organisation, they will be able to give you support and advice over the telephone. (You don't have to give them your name if you would prefer not to.) A Victim Support volunteer can also visit you at home, if you would prefer to talk to someone face-to-face.

Try to resist the urge to wash yourself or your clothes until you have decided whether to report what happened to the police.

If you do decide to report the crime to the police, they have a better chance of achieving an identification and a successful prosecution case if they have DNA evidence. In order to get this evidence a specially trained doctor will need to take samples of your saliva, urine, blood and pubic hair, and swabs from your mouth, rectum and genitals.

If you go to the police station, a police officer will arrange for these swabs and samples to be taken by a doctor in a special examination suite.

If you're not sure whether you want to go to the police, you can go with a friend or family member to your local Sexual Assault Referral Centre where you can have forensic and medical examinations. Swabs can be taken from any area that the assailant came into contact with you, and then stored in case you do decide to report it to the police at a later time.


Even if you are unsure whether to report the crime to the police, it is advisable to get some medical support after a rape or sexual assault. You may have injuries that need treating. It is also advisable to get advice on emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

You can go to:

  • A&E (accident and emergency)
  • a family planning clinic
  • a Brook Advisory Centre
  • your GP
  • a sexual health clinic (also known as GUM clinic)
  • a sexual health clinic run by the FPA

All doctors and nurses will deal with your medical needs confidentially, and they will not inform the police.

If you think you might report the crime to the police, you should tell a doctor or nurse so that they can arrange some forensic swabs for you that could be used as evidence. You can have the swabs taken, and still decide not to go to the police.

Emergency contraception

If you are a woman and have been forced to have sex without any contraception, such as a condom, there is a chance you could become pregnant. Emergency contraception, if used in time, can prevent a pregnancy occurring.

There are two methods of emergency contraception:

  • the copper IUD (intrauterine device).
  • the emergency pill (also known as the morning after pill), and

The copper IUD is fitted in the womb by a doctor or nurse within five days of unprotected sex or the earliest time you could have released an egg (ovulation). The IUD has almost a 100% success rate.

Emergency pills are given as a single tablet, to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex (sex without contraception). The use of the emergency pill is not recommended after 72 hours (three days) as the chances of it working are greatly reduced.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Even if you don't have any symptoms it's best to have a check up for STIs. Your GP or family planning nurse can refer you to a GUM clinic for further testing. You may choose to have an HIV test. If you decide to have an HIV test you will be offered counselling first.

Alternatively, you can call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47 to speak to someone in confidence about any concerns you may have.

Reporting a sexual assault or rape to the police

Only you can decide whether to report a sexual offence to the police. It can be done at any time, for example, immediately after the incident or days later.

It's important to be aware that if you report the crime immediately after it has happened, the police have an increased chance of collecting evidence.

If you report an attack later it's likely that any physical evidence will be lost. Ideally, medical evidence should be collected within 72 hours (three days) of the attack. Your clothes may also be needed as evidence, so remember to take spare clothing with you to change into if possible. If not, don't worry - the police can provide a spare set of clothes for you to change in to.

The police are trained to deal with cases of rape and sexual assault. They are there to help you.

They have set procedures that make sure you get the support you need, and ensure that where possible they get the evidence they need to identify and prosecute the attacker.

If you are unsure as to what to do you can call the Victim Supportline on 0845 30 30 900 for advice and information about your options.

The procedure

If you choose to report the sexual offence a police officer will start by taking your details.

If the attack occurred recently the police will arrange for you to have a medical examination. This is to ensure that you receive the necessary medical attention, but also to collect any physical evidence.

Once you feel ready the police will continue to take a statement from you. This will be used as the main piece of evidence if the case goes to trial (court). This means your statement is not confidential. However, all your personal information, such as your name and address, will not be included in the statement.

You may feel embarrassed or find it difficult, but try to tell them as much information as you can. If you cannot remember certain details, tell them that you cannot remember. Tell them if you have washed or not since the assault. Also, let them know if you whether you drank any alcohol or took any recreational drugs before the assault.

If you're worried you might forget some of the details, write everything down beforehand, even just in note form, to remind yourself later. For example:

  • at roughly what time the assault happened,
  • the sequence of events that lead up to the assault,
  • any conversations that could be relevant,
  • how you tried to resist the assault,
  • any details about the appearance of the attacker,
  • any threats that were used against you,
  • any weapons that were mentioned or seen during the assault,
  • any injuries that you received, and
  • any injuries that the attacker received.

Support and advice

Being raped or sexually assaulted can be an extremely distressing experience. Everyone reacts differently, and your feelings tend to change over time, or even day-to-day. You are likely to go through a range of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, shock and guilt. But what's important to remember is that if you've been the victim of a sexual assault or rape, it was not your fault.

You may feel that you need some help getting over what has happened, even if it is just someone to talk to.

A close friend or family member may be the best person to confide in, or you may prefer to talk to someone you don't know, such as a counsellor or a support group. Your GP surgery should be able to give you the contact numbers for support groups in your area.

If you are experiencing anxiety or symptoms of depression (see 'related articles'), you should see your GP who can offer you support and advice. They can refer you to a counsellor, and they may also prescribe you medication, such as antidepressants.

Remember, you can seek help either directly after the assault, or in the following days, months or years.


It's important to remember that Victim Support can help you even if you don't report a crime to the police. Volunteers are able to visit you at home, or talk to you confidentially over the phone on their Victim Supportline 0845 30 30 900.

The Samaritans are available 24 hours-a-day on 08457 90 90 90, and are there to listen and support.

Similarly, the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 is available 24 hours-a-day, and is also a freephone number.

This helpline is available to women experiencing domestic violence (and friends and family of anyone in danger) and can provide 24-hour emergency refuge accommodation and a range of information.

Rape Crisis Centres provide crisis and long-term specialised counselling, support and independent advocacy for women and girls of all ages who have experienced any form of sexual violence recently or in the past.

The Rape Crisis helpline (0808 02 9999) is open from 12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year

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Selected links

NHS Direct Wales links  

Find your nearest contraceptive and GUM clinic

External links


Sexual assault services (Family Planning Association)

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 03/12/2015 09:15:38

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