Rape or sexual assault: information for women
Many rape victims feel that they have lost control over their lives
Being a victim of any kind of crime can be frightening and upsetting. But rape and sexual assault are particularly distressing crimes for the victim and the effects can last for a long time.
As everybody is different, it is not easy to know exactly how you will feel. But it's very likely that you are going though some very intense emotions. People who've been through this describe feeling frightened, guilty, powerless, angry, ashamed and depressed, and having difficulty eating, sleeping or concentrating. Many victims feel that they have lost control over their lives and lose their self-esteem. Some find it very difficult to deal with the intimate aspects of the crime, especially when they have to talk to other people about what has happened.
Some victims are particularly upset because they may have become physically aroused during the attack and worry about what this could mean. But if this has happened to you, you should remember that this is likely to have been a purely physical reaction, like a reflex, over which you may have no control.
If you've been assaulted by a partner or someone else you know, the effects may be even greater. As well as the experience itself you've had your trust abused and this can affect your relationship with other people, both now and in the future. You might also be worried about how friends and family are going to react.
We can help
Our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who's been raped or sexually assaulted, now or in the past. We can help, regardless of whether you have told the police or anyone else about the attack.
Our volunteers can visit you at home (if you want us to, and if doing so will not put you at further risk) or somewhere else if you prefer. If you don't want to see anyone face-to-face, you can also talk to us on the 'phone, either at one of our local offices or at the national Victim Supportline on 0845 30 30 900 (calls charged at the local rate).
If you choose to report the attack, we can go to the police station with you. If you give evidence in court, our Witness Service can help you to cope with the experience. We can also give you information about compensation.
You may be worried about pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) after a rape or sexual attack. If you are over 16, hospitals and doctors must see you in complete confidence, and will not tell the police unless you ask them to. Even if you are under 16 most doctors will try to keep what has happened to you as confidential as possible. If you prefer not to use your own GP there are many clinics which offer free and confidential testing and advice.
Risk of pregnancy
If you are worried about being pregnant after a sexual attack, you can get free treatment and advice from family planning clinics, young persons’ clinics, Brook Advisory Centres or your GP.
You can get free and immediate testing and emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy. If you chose contraception, it will either be the 'morning after pill' (which must be taken within three days (72 hours) of unprotected intercourse) or an emergency coil (IUD), which must be fitted within five days.
You can also get emergency contraception at an NHS sexual health clinic.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Even if you have no symptoms, a check up for STIs is a sensible precaution after a rape or sexual assault. You can get help and advice from your GP or practice nurse, family planning clinics or Brook Advisory Centres.
Any of these can refer you to a sexual health clinic where you can be tested. Or you can contact your nearest large hospital and ask for an appointment with the sexual health clinic yourself.
If you may have been exposed to HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), you should seek medical advice quickly as there is medication which can prevent HIV from taking hold in some people – but only if it is taken quickly after infection. This treatment, called post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), may be available from your nearest sexual health clinic or hospital A&E department. You can find out more about PEP, HIV and AIDS from Terrence Higgins Trust or from the THT Direct helpline on 0808 802 1221 (10am - 8pm Monday to Friday).
You can choose to have an HIV test separately. This will usually happen at a sexual health clinic and you will normally be offered counselling before the test. Your GP can arrange the test for you, but if you are worried about confidentiality you can go direct to the sexual health clinic.
For general information about STIs, you can call the free 24-hour Sexual Healthline on 0800 567 123.
Telling the police
Only you can decide whether or not to report the assault to the police. If you don't know what to do, we can talk with you about what it would mean and what your options are. You can report the attack to the police straight away, later, or not at all if you choose. If you report an attack soon after it has happened, however, it may give the police an opportunity to get physical evidence against your attacker that might be gone if you report the crime later. A police officer (usually a woman) will take basic details from you. If the assault happened recently, the police will arrange an examination by medical staff to collect evidence. We know that an intimate examination might be the last thing you want after an experience like this, but it's important to remember that it may give the police evidence to help convict your attacker. If you're unsure about what to do, we can talk through your options with you and help you make a choice you feel comfortable with.
You may be near one of the growing number of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs). These are local partnerships between the police, health services and voluntary organisations set up to focus on your immediate support needs. They are independent one-stop centres where victims of sexual assault can get medical care and support while at the same time having the opportunity to help any police investigation (if you choose to report the crime). The centres include facilities for forensic examination to collect physical evidence. If appropriate, the police will ask you if you'd like to be referred, or you can go directly to the SARC yourself if you do not want to report the incident to the police.
The police will take further details from you only when you feel ready. The statement you make will be used as the main evidence if your attacker is caught and there is a court case. The police should arrange an interpreter for people who have difficulties with English.
You will be told the name of the officer dealing with your case. The police will let you know if someone is caught and charged and whether or not they are released on bail. You should tell the police if you are worried that the attacker will harass or intimidate you. If the police charge someone with rape or indecent assault, they pass the evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who prepare the case for court.
If you want, we can help you in your contact with the police and the CPS.
The court process
You may have to wait a few months for the case to go to court if someone is charged with raping or assaulting you. The police will send you a letter telling you the date of the hearing. If the person pleads 'guilty', you will not have to give evidence but you can still choose to go to court if you want to. The police or CPS should tell you what sentence has been given. If the person pleads 'not guilty' you may be asked to go to give evidence. If this happens, remember that you can take a friend for support, or we can arrange for one of our volunteers to go with you.
Going to court
If you have to go to court in connection with the attack, we have information on what to expect and how we can support you. Talk to one of our staff or volunteers and ask about the range of measures to help protect you and your privacy through the court process - we can give you details.
Other legal action
You can take out a private prosecution for rape or sexual assault or go to the civil court to sue the alleged attacker for damages. If you think you might want to do this you should consult a solicitor. If you are worried about your safety you should tell the police and you may be able to obtain an injunction to help make sure that your attacker stays away from you. When an offender is released or if your attacker is sentenced to one year or more in prison, the Probation Service must ask you if you want to be informed about plans for his or her release. You should tell the Probation Service if you have any concerns about this.
As a victim of sexual violence, you may be able to get Criminal Injuries Compensation. Normally the crime must have been reported to the police for you to qualify, but we can give you more information about this.
Other sources of help
See the links on the right for other organisations which help and support victims of rape and sexual assault.
Get in touch: we can help
Most people are referred to us by the police when they report a crime. But anyone can contact us directly if they want to.
You can also email or call the Victim Supportline on 0845 30 30 900 for support and information.