According to UK law, rape is the penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with a penis, without the person’s consent, where the perpetrator does not have reasonable belief there was consent.

Assault by penetration is a person intentionally penetrating the vagina or anus of another person with an object, or part of the body other than the penis, without their consent (or reasonable belief that they consent).

Sexual assault is when a person intentionally touches another person, the touching is sexual, and the perpetrator does not have reasonable belief there was consent.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape and assault by penetration and of up to 10 years imprisonment for sexual assault. 

However you are feeling, try to remember that this is not your fault, you are not to blame, and you are not alone. 

  • Try to be somewhere that feels safe.
  • You might be in shock, so try to keep warm.
  • See if a friend or someone you trust can be with you.
  • It may help to talk to someone about what has happened. If you don’t feel like talking to a friend or family member yet, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation who can provide free, confidential, non-judgemental support and information – or call the national Freephone helpline on 0800 802 9999.

If you need urgent medical care or attention, call 999 (or 112 from a mobile) and ask for an ambulance or go straight to your nearest Accident & Emergency department. Find more health information that might be helpful here.

If you want to report it, what options do you have? 

If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, it is entirely up to you whether or not you choose to report it to the police. No-one else can or should make that decision for you.

It is important that it is your decision to report and you have not been pressured into it. In England and Wales there is no time limit on reporting, you can go to the police at any time after the crime has taken place.

If you have been raped or sexually abused recently there may be evidence such as DNA that would be useful to an investigation. This evidence can be gathered at Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs). If you are in London, these are called The Havens. If you are outside London, you can find your nearest SARC by calling the NHS 111 non-emergency service, speaking to your GP or the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital, or by visiting the NHS Choices website.

If you want forensic evidence to be collected, time is an important factor; you should try and go to the SARC or report to the police straight away if you can, or at least within 72 hours of the rape or assault.

 Also, if possible, try to take these steps:

  • Do not wash
  • Do not brush your teeth
  • Do not have a cigarette
  • Do not eat or drink
  • Do not change your clothes
  • If you do change your clothes, do not wash them but put them in a clean plastic bag
  • Try not to go to the toilet
  • Do not clear up anything from the area of the incident

Don’t worry if you have already done some of these things. It’s possible that there is still forensic evidence to collect.

If the assault has just happened then call 999, if it has taken place some time ago call 101 which is the police switchboard and you will be put through to your local force. They will take some details from you and arrange for a uniformed officer to take your initial statement, this will either be in your home or in a police station, or if you have an advocate this may be able take place with them in a Rape Crisis centre. You can request to give this account to a female officer when you call 101. ? If you are thinking about reporting and would like more information or support with the process there are people called Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) who can support you with the process. You can find one by contacting your local Rape Crisis Centre.

When the officer is taking the initial statement they will ask you what happened, where and when it happened and who the perpetrator was if you know them, they will also ask for a description. At this stage the police do not need to know every detail of what happened but they do need to know which crime has been committed so may ask you to use clear language to describe what happened such as penis or vagina. They do not want to embarrass you, it is so that it is clear to everyone what has happened.

From this point the uniformed officer will put your initial statement on the crime reporting system and it will be handed over to the specialist sexual offences team. It is here that a specially trained Sexual Offences Investigative Techniques (SOIT) officer will be allocated to your case and will be the point of contact throughout the case.

The next stage of the process is the full account which is usually taken in a police station. Again, arrange for an advocate or friend to accompany you if it would help you to feel more confident and comfortable. This is usually taken in video form where an officer will ask you to give an account of your experiences and then ask you questions about any details they need. This conversation will be audio and visually recorded. If the case ever goes to court this video will be played as part of your evidence. If you do not want to do a video recorded interview you can do a written statement, these often take longer to do so may be done over a couple of sessions with the police.

It’s important not to leave any information or details out of your statement, even if you find them upsetting or embarrassing. If there are things you can’t remember, tell the police that, rather than trying to imagine or speculate about what might have happened. It’s totally understandable not to remember everything.  And be honest with the police even about things that you might be worried will reflect badly on you, like how much alcohol you’d had to drink or if you’d taken illegal drugs; remember that none of these factors make what happened to you your fault and you are not to blame.

Information about what happens next, and at each stage of the Criminal Justice System, is available here.

If you’re unsure whether or not to report to the police, your local Rape Crisis organisation will listen and support you to reach your own decision. Many Rape Crisis organisations also offer specialist advocacy or Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) services that can support you throughout and beyond the criminal justice process.

What if you don’t want to report officially?

If you are not sure whether you want to report to the police or not yet, you might choose to go directly to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), if there is one in your area. It’s good to take a friend or trusted person with you if you can.

 At the SARC, you can have a forensic medical examination, as well as tests for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. The SARC should not pressure you into reporting to the police and they can store the results of the forensic examination (or evidence) until you make up your mind whether to report to the police or not. SARCs have specially trained professionals who can give you medical help and advice. They can also help and support you through your immediate trauma.

 You can find your nearest SARC by calling the NHS 111 non-emergency service, speaking to your GP or the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital, or by visiting the NHS Choices website.

If you choose not to go to a SARC there is still support and information available to you. You can contact the National Freephone Helpline on 0808 802 9999 or visit www.rapecrisis.org.uk for more information.

You can find details of your nearest Rape Crisis centre here: http://rapecrisis.org.uk/centres.php

You can contact the National Freephone Helpline on 0808 802 9999 or visit www.rapecrisis.org.uk

The Survivors Trust has a list of available support services and organisations

Many Rape Crisis organisations offer Independent Sexual Violence Advisors or Advocates (ISVAs), whose role is providing information and emotional support to survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse who have reported to the police or are thinking about doing so.

Rights of Women provides free advice on criminal law for women in England and Wales. Call 020 7251 8887, Tuesday 11am-1pm.

Some member Rape Crisis organisations provide support services for men and boys who have experienced sexual violence as a child or an adult. You can search their directory of support organisations to see if your nearest service provides support for men and boys here. Rape Crisis organisations that do not provide direct services for men or boys will be able to give you information about relevant local support organisations.

Survivors UK provides support and counselling for male survivors of rape and sexual abuse

Other support for men & boys:

Information about services in Wales, Jersey, Ireland, Scotland and the rest of Europe. LIN

An international inventory of hotlines, shelters, refuges, crisis centres and women’s organizations, searchable by country, with an index of domestic violence resources in over 110 languages.

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood 0800 085 3330

For support in historic cases of sexual abuse

Galop Helpline: 020 7704 2040
Galop gives advice and support to people who have experienced biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexual violence or domestic abuse. They also support lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people who have had problems with the police or have questions about the criminal justice system.

My Body Back provides support services for women who have experienced sexual abuse a year or more ago, including cervical screening and STI clinics specifically designed by and for survivors.

Victim Support Support line: 0845 30 30 900
Free and confidential support to help you deal with your experience, whether or not you report the crime. Also supports witnesses of crime.

An overview of the Criminal Justice System and what is involved at each step of the process should you choose to report.

From report to court: a downloadable booklet from Rights of Women with detailed information about reporting to the police and the criminal justice process

Information and advice if you have been raped or sexually assaulted abroad

More information about different types of sexual violence

Information from NHS Direct on Help after Rape and Sexual Assault

This information was compiled in collaboration with
Rape Crisis South London