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In the year 2007-08, police recorded 41,460 serious sexual offences in England and Wales. This includes rape, sexual assault and sexual activity with children. Many more offences are unreported.
Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. Don’t be afraid to get help.
A sexual assault can range from inappropriate touching to a life-threatening attack, rape or any other penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus. It's a myth that victims of sexual assault always look battered and bruised. A sexual assault may leave no outward signs, but it's still a crime.
“Some people are afraid they won’t be believed if they haven’t got signs of injury,” says Bernie Ryan, a counsellor and manager at St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Manchester. “But that isn’t so. We don’t necessarily expect to see injuries. For the victim, the extent of the sexual assault is no indication of how distressing they find it, or how violated they feel.”
Victims are most likely to be young women aged 16 to 24. But men and women of any age, race, ability or sexuality can be assaulted. This could be by a stranger or, much more likely, someone they know. It could be a partner, former partner, husband, relative, friend or colleague.
Most sexual assaults happen in the home of the victim or perpetrator (the person carrying out the assault).
Sexual assault is an act that is carried out without the victim’s active consent. This means they didn’t agree to it.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember that it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, where you were or whether you had been drinking. A sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator.
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. Other services and organisations won’t insist that you do. However, consider getting medical help as soon as possible because you may be at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
If you get help immediately after the assault, try not to wash or change your clothes as there may be forensic evidence that could be important if you 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):
Sexual assault referral centres
Sexual assault referral centres offer medical, practical and emotional support. They have specially trained doctors and counsellors to care for you. If you're considering reporting the assault to the police, they can arrange for you to have an informal talk with a specially trained police officer who can explain what’s involved.
There are also specially trained advisers available in some sexual assault referral centres or voluntary organisations to help people who have been sexually assaulted. These independent sexual violence advisers (ISVA) help victims get access to all the support services they need. They will support you through the criminal justice system if you decide to report the assault to the police, including giving a statement and, if necessary, giving evidence in court.
You can tell someone you trust first, such as a friend, relative or teacher, who can help you get the support you need.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you don’t have to have a forensic examination and you can change your mind at any time. But it can provide evidence against the person who assaulted you. The examination usually takes place at a sexual assault referral centre or in a police suite, carried out by a doctor or nurse specially trained in forensic medicine.
They will take samples (such as hair, bodily fluids or swabs) from anywhere you were touched during the assault. The doctor or nurse will ask any relevant questions, for example about the assault or any recent sexual activity.
If you haven’t decided whether to report the assault to the police, any evidence that's collected will be stored until you make up your mind.
If you do decide to report it to the police, a police officer specially trained in supporting victims of sexual assault will be there to help and make sure you understand what's going on at each stage.
The police will investigate the assault. This will involve you having a forensic exam and making a statement about what happened. The police will pass their findings 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:
Services will keep your details as confidential as possible. However, if there’s a police investigation or criminal prosecution relating to the assault, any material relating to it is ‘disclosable’. This means it may have to be produced in court.
“When a forensic exam is conducted, the person who has been assaulted is asked for consent in relation to disclosure,” says Ryan. “We will do everything in our power to protect sensitive records, but if a judge says they are relevant to the case, he or she can subpoena them [order them to be released].”
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:
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