What happens to evidence from a forensic medical examination (FME)

Phoning the sexual assault self-referral phone service

You can phone the NHS Scotland sexual assault self-referral phone service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 148 88 88. Calls are free from landlines and mobiles.

About the sexual assault self-referral phone service

During your FME, samples will be taken and stored as part of the evidence gathering process. This is done to ensure that if you wish to make a report to the police, the evidence is available and can be used in court.

The sexual assault response co-ordination service (SARCS) will keep your evidence safe for 26 months (2 years and 2 months), from the day of your examination. This is called the ‘retention period’. During that time, you can decide if you want to tell the police about the assault.

Samples are stored securely by your health board and cannot be accessed by anyone, including the police, without your permission.

How long are samples stored for?

Samples will be stored for 26 months from the date of your FME. 

The 26-month retention period allows you 2 years and 2 months to consider your options. It also means you can avoid having to make difficult decisions at the same time of year as the rape or sexual assault happened.

Stored samples will be securely disposed of after the 26 months have passed.

You will not be contacted by anyone before or at the end of the retention period.

How your samples can be used

If you decide to tell the police about the assault within the 26 month retention period, you should tell them about the examination. If you do tell the police, they will ask you to sign a form. This will allow the SARCS to pass your evidence to them.

Your samples will not be tested unless you make a report to the police.

If the police have enough evidence to prove a crime has been committed, they will submit a report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). The COPFS will decide if there is enough evidence to prosecute the person.

How to get your belongings back

People's belongings, like items of clothing, are sometimes kept as evidence. If you're sure you don't want to make a report to the police it's possible to request that your belongings are returned to you.

If your items are given back to you it doesn't affect your right to make a report to the police. However, it's unlikely that these items would then be able to be used in evidence, due to the risk of contamination.

It's not possible to have biological samples sent to you, only belongings, like clothing or accessories.

Find out more about what could be stored following an FME

In some cases it may not be possible to return your items to you. For example, if the item contains hazardous material - such as a drug contamination. In this case you will be told as soon as possible.

If you want to request your items are returned you can contact the SARCS using the details given to you at your appointment, or your health board if you no longer have those details. 

Learn more about what happens during a forensic medical examination (FME) including what samples are taken and stored

How to ask for the evidence to be disposed of

If at any point in the 26 month retention period you decide you don't want to make a police report, you can request that your samples are disposed of. Any evidence and samples are disposed of securely.

If you want to request disposal you can contact the SARCS using the details given to you at your appointment, or your health board if you no longer have those details.

You'll have a 30 day cooling off period before any action is taken. If you withdraw your request within the 30 days your samples will continue to be securely stored.

If you don't make a police report or contact the SARCS within 26 months, all samples and evidence will be securely disposed of.

If you have evidence disposed of it doesn't affect your right to make a report to the police at any time.

Last updated:
01 April 2022